Leaked execution videos strengthen case for Syrian war crimes prosecutions

Special Leaked execution videos strengthen case for Syrian war crimes prosecutions
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Updated 21 November 2022

Leaked execution videos strengthen case for Syrian war crimes prosecutions

Leaked execution videos strengthen case for Syrian war crimes prosecutions
  • Monitors analyzed footage from 2012-13 showing bodies being doused in gasoline and thrown into a burn pit
  • Syria Justice and Accountability Center hopes the leaked videos can be used for war crimes prosecutions

WASHINGTON D.C:  “Arrest, pursue and kill.” The orders were spelled out unambiguously in the official document that had once belonged to a branch of Syrian military intelligence in the city of Deraa in early 2012.

Those orders and a series of videos that showed an attempted cover-up of executions were leaked to researchers working for a non-governmental organization based in Washington, D.C.

The Syrian Justice and Accountability Center analyzed the videos, dating back to 2012 and 2013, which showed bodies being burnt and transferred into mass graves in the southern province of Deraa, and crosschecked them with satellite imagery monitoring the trucks transporting the bodies.

Four videos depicted rows of bodies being doused in gasoline and thrown into a burn pit outside a dusty village at a time when Syria was in the throes of a full-blown uprising against the regime of President Bashar Assad.

“This process is repeated for every single body in the exact same order, indicating the systematic nature of the practice and suggesting that this may not be the only time this group of officials has carried out such an operation,” center officials said.

They believe the 15 bodies seen in the footage were those of civilian and army defectors killed by regime forces during a house raid in Deraa in December 2012.

The videos implicated the Syrian military intelligence branch in Al-Masmiyah in Deraa and senior officers of the 9th Division’s 34th Armored Brigade in the destruction of evidence of alleged mass killings of unarmed civilians.

Once the bodies were burned, an excavator belonging to the Syrian military was used to dig a mass grave not far from a military checkpoint. The perpetrators clearly believed no one outside of their circle would ever find out the crimes they had committed.

An intelligence officer, known as Abu Taher, filmed the abuse of the corpses and subsequent burning on apparent orders from above; senior officials who probably wanted confirmation that their instructions had been followed.

Another officer, identified as Maj. Fadi Al-Quzi, was filmed using his own digital camera to take pictures of the victims’ faces before their bodies were burned.

SJAC researchers said they received the video clips when rebels later ambushed a convoy carrying the Assad loyalists who were there.

FASTFACTS

* Syria Justice and Accountability Center investigates and collects evidence of war crimes.

* Mohammad Al-Abdallah, founding director of the SJAC, was imprisoned in Syria and tortured by the regime.

* The civil war has claimed more than 350,000 Syrian lives and forced 7 million people from their homes.

Mohammad Al-Abdallah, the SJAC’s founding director, told Arab News that the videos provided strong visual evidence that the Syrian intelligence apparatus had in place a systemic process of documenting mass atrocities based on the commands of the senior leadership.

“It seems the documentation was systematically carried out by members of the intelligence. The systematic process of filming, the digital camera, the transfer of data to a central laptop, and the resentment of higher officers of the filming by their subordinates but unable to order them to stop filming, all these are clear indications that the filming was being ordered by higher officers.”

By revealing and analyzing these videos to the world, he hopes that a measure of closure can be provided to the families of the victims who were not even given bodies to mourn.

“Our analysis is that the filming aimed to document the identities of the victims primarily but also to provide evidence that the units had carried out the orders,” Al-Abdallah said.

“Documenting the identities of victims is a practice the Syrian intelligence followed in the case of victims of torture, for example. We have seen it in the Caesar photos.”




Burning of bodies of conflict victims has been seen as an attempt to deny Syrian families the right to know the fates of their loved ones. (AFP)

He was referring to a Syrian known as “Caesar,” who documented torture against civilians by the Assad regime in what became known as the 2014 Syrian detainee report or Caesar report.

The so-called burn-pit videos seemed to confirm the practice of documenting mass executions and attempted disposal of the bodies as part of a macabre bureaucratic policy instituted by various Syrian state security agencies.

The SJAC’s revelations of these latest videos have added to horrific evidence previously leaked by a former Syrian military intelligence photographer, codenamed Caesar, who escaped Syria with a thumb drive containing 1,000 photographs of executed detainees, with each victim provided a number and then surreptitiously disposed of.

Reports published in the New Lines Magazine and the UK’s Guardian newspaper in April implicated regime forces in the murders of dozens of people in 2013.

The most important piece of evidence was mobile phone footage depicting summary mass executions of civilians by Syrian military officers in Tadamon, a southern suburb of Damascus that had revolted against the regime.

Al-Abdallah noted that the videos from Deraa proved that there was a clear hierarchy commanding atrocities on a massive scale, and that the individuals carrying out these orders had become cruelly accustomed to the task.

“My first thought was we knew they committed a lot of such crimes, but I was never sure that filming was a bureaucratic and centralized process,” he said.

“Later, after watching the videos over and over, it’s apparent that the practice is just normal for this group of officers. They were listening to music and to (Lebanese singer) Fairouz as they were gearing up and preparing for attacks in the morning.”

Al-Abdallah hoped that publicizing the atrocities would serve the dual purpose of establishing evidence that could be used for war crimes prosecution in the future and remind the world what the Assad regime had been guilty of.

“Exposing such crimes definitely gets in the middle of normalizing attempts and reminds the world of such crimes and the depths of brutality the Syrian intelligence had sunk to in dealing with its opponents,” he said.

“Currently, we have prepared a file of the faces of the perpetrators, and we are sharing them with authorities in Europe in case any of the perpetrators are currently in Europe and we can hold them accountable.

“A very important aspect of justice here is the closure for families who might get knowledge of their missing loved ones as well.”

For now, nothing can be done to bring back the victims shown in the video. A member of one family had told Al-Abdallah that they believed they had recognized their missing son among the bodies before they were doused with gasoline and burned.

Some of the military intelligence officers involved in this particularly gruesome act were killed in a subsequent rebel ambush. Those that ordered the executions and burning of the bodies are still believed to be serving in Assad’s military.

Since the start of the uprising in 2011, which prompted a brutal crackdown by the Assad regime on mostly peaceful protesters, Syrian authorities have been accused of torturing detainees to death, of rape, sexual assaults, and extrajudicial executions.




The Syria Justice and Accountability Center investigates and collects evidence of war crimes. (AFP)

Preservation of evidence and public revelation of the identities of regime officials involved in atrocities means that human rights activists and the families of the victims can at least hold onto the hope that justice could be served in the future, no matter how distant.

Al-Abdallah and his team are following up on additional leads that have resulted from the publication of the latest tranche of video evidence.

“The publication and identification of the perpetrator are very important. Just after publishing, we started getting calls and emails from people who knew something about the crime and wanted to help us. Indeed, we believe this practice happened in several places and in other provinces,” he said.

The photos, videos, and written orders detailing executions, mass burials, and the incineration of bodies hark back to a phase of the civil war that was slowly fading from the international community’s collective memory.

But shedding light on their existence and exposing those who ordered and carried out the apparent war crimes could send a loud and unmistakable message to a world that seems to have grown numb to, and moved on from, the conflict in Syria.

Although not all the victims have been identified, investigators say they hope to put the perpetrators on notice that they will doggedly pursue those responsible, no matter how long it takes.

 


Beirut ‘neighborhood watch’ echoes troubled past

Beirut ‘neighborhood watch’ echoes troubled past
Updated 27 November 2022

Beirut ‘neighborhood watch’ echoes troubled past

Beirut ‘neighborhood watch’ echoes troubled past
  • The neighborhood watch is the latest symptom of the crisis that has afflicted Lebanon since its economy collapsed in 2019
  • The men deployed in the city’s Ashrafieh district offer reassurance to residents worried about crime

BEIRUT: In the darkness of Beirut’s unlit streets, men wielding batons and torches are taking security into their own hands in an initiative they hope will keep neighborhoods safe but critics see as a worrying echo of Lebanon’s troubled past.
The neighborhood watch, launched earlier this month in some of Beirut’s most salubrious streets, is the latest symptom of the crisis that has afflicted Lebanon since its economy collapsed in 2019, paralyzing much of the state and fueling poverty in the worst shock since the 1975-90 civil war.
To supporters of the scheme — the idea of Christian politician Nadim Gemayel and organized by a civil society group he founded — the men deployed in the city’s Ashrafieh district offer reassurance to residents worried about crime.
But among critics, their appearance has evoked parallels with the civil war when the state collapsed, militias controlled the streets and Beirut split into cantons. The mayor has expressed concern it could prompt others to follow suit.
Such criticisms are rejected by Gemayel, a lawmaker in the Kataeb Party whose father, Bashir, led the main Christian militia in the civil war until he was assassinated in 1982 after being elected president.
“We are not a militia, we are not armed, we don’t have rockets or drones,” he said, referring to the heavily armed, Iran-backed Shiite group Hezbollah.
“The big problem we are suffering today in Beirut and all Lebanon is that there’s no electricity, there’s no security, no feeling of reassurance, and all the streets are dark,” he said, describing the state as “absent.”
“If they had done their duty and lit the streets, we would not have been forced to light the streets, and if they ... had not allowed the country to collapse, we would not be forced today to stand in the streets to reassure our people,” he said.
The initiative — which currently has 98 recruits — was launched in coordination with the security services and aimed to complement their work, Gemayel said, adding the security forces were suffering a manpower shortfall due to the crisis.
Lebanon’s security services, like the rest of the state, have been hit hard by a 95 percent currency collapse which has destroyed the value of wages paid to soldiers and police.
The United States is buttressing them with aid, including salary support.
A spokesman for the Internal Security Forces (ISF) did not respond to a request for comment.
The crisis has driven a spike in crimes, including armed robberies, carjackings, handbag snatches and thefts of Internet and telephone cables.
Still, army chief General Joseph Aoun said the army, the backbone of civil peace in Lebanon, was able to maintain order. “The security situation is under control... we have not previously accepted any violation of security and stability, and we will not accept it today,” he said.
Beirut Mayor Jamal Itani said he learnt about the initiative on the news, and was worried it could cause tension.
“Say they catch a thief from one party or people intervene with guns, then things could get out of hand,” he said.
“My second fear is that other areas will also ask for this and then each area will have a group for itself managing security in their area.”
Lebanon’s sectarian parties disarmed at the end of the war, bar Hezbollah, which kept its arsenal to fight Israel. Their pervasive influence is never far from the surface and tensions are common in a country awash with guns.
Supporters of different groups fought deadly clashes in Beirut as recently as last year.
Mohanad Hage Ali of the Carnegie Middle East Center said the initiative was a clear example of security being organized locally under a political umbrella, adding that this trend had surfaced earlier in the crisis and was unfolding less visibly elsewhere.
Security, like electricity, would increasingly be enjoyed by those who could afford it, he added.
Gemayel said the finance came from local donors, with logistics organized by a security company. Recruits earn $200 a month for a six-hour shift — much needed income for many.
He expects expansion.
Shopkeeper George Samaha welcomed it.
“We were more assured because nothing is guaranteed given this bad situation we’re living,” said Samaha, 51.
But lawmaker Paula Yacoubian called it “short-sighted.”
“Are we back to the time of militias?” she said.
“This country is disintegrating and falling apart, and this is one of the things that will contribute to the fall of the country and the state.”


Egyptian parliament looking to activate law for organ, cornea transplantation

Egyptian parliament looking to activate law for organ, cornea transplantation
Updated 26 November 2022

Egyptian parliament looking to activate law for organ, cornea transplantation

Egyptian parliament looking to activate law for organ, cornea transplantation
  • The parliament has not taken a decision yet despite its discussion over the past few days
  • MP Makram Radwan sparked controversy in parliament when he submitted a request for a briefing on the amendment to the Human Organ Transplant Law

CAIRO: A debate has been underway within the Egyptian parliament over amendments to the Human Organ Transplant Law.
The parliament has not taken a decision yet despite its discussion over the past few days.
The amendments focus on the activation of two laws: one issued in 2010 banning organ sales, which has not yet been fully implemented due to the revolution in 2011, and one issued in 1962 regarding the organization of the eye bank.
The Health Affairs Committee in the Egyptian House of Representatives recommended that the Ministry of Health activate the provisions of the Human Organ Transplant Law passed in 2010 in which Article 8 of its executive regulations allows people to request in their wills that their organs be donated following their death.
MP Makram Radwan sparked controversy in parliament when he submitted a request for a briefing on the amendment to the Human Organ Transplant Law.
“Egypt has fallen behind many countries that have implemented the law,” Radwan told Arab News.
“Although we have an organ transplant law, it has not been activated. There can be no organ transfer without prior approval to protect doctors.”
As for the law regarding the eye bank, the matter was raised at the request of Representative Karim Badr Helmy.
Badr told Arab News: “I am not calling for something new. This was within the provisions of the 1962 law regulating eye banks.”
Helmy demanded that all cornea banks be re-operated in hospitals licensed to establish them.
He also proposed that the health minister issue a decision to set procedures for transferring the corneas of the dead to university hospitals and other hospitals of the ministry that are licensed to establish banks to preserve them.
Dr. Khaled Omran, one of the fatwa trustees at the Egyptian Dar Al-Iftaa, told Arab News that organ donation is highly beneficial, helping many patients, and is considered of a form of charity.
Omran said that a donation takes place in accordance with conditions set by the law and approved by Dar Al-Iftaa.
The first is that the patient must be legally, and not just clinically, dead
The second is that the donation must be based on a person’s will documented by doctors.
The third condition is that the donation of organs related to the reproductive system must be prevented in order to avoid any suspicion of mixing lineage.


Egypt turns to religious edicts to protect children from harmful video games

Photo/Shutterstock
Photo/Shutterstock
Updated 26 November 2022

Egypt turns to religious edicts to protect children from harmful video games

Photo/Shutterstock
  • Apps can stimulate minds but also cause addiction, incite violence, Dar Al-Iftaa official says
  • Some games are used by extremist groups like Daesh to exploit young people, he says

CAIRO: One of Egypt’s top Islamic organizations, Dar Al-Iftaa, is trying to raise awareness of the potentially harmful impact of mobile games and apps on young people.

A recent report by the Global Fatwa Index showed that 33 percent of the fatwas on technological affairs issued this year were related to the subject and that many of them stressed the need to protect children from exploitation and violent or other harmful content.

“Video games and modern applications are a double-edged sword,” Sheikh Awaida Othman from Dar Al-Iftaa, the Egyptian government’s principal Islamic legal institution for issuing fatwas, told Arab News.

“Despite their ability to develop minds, they come with many disadvantages, most notably mobile addiction, spreading violence, social isolation, and the incidence of unrest and psychological disorders.

“The latest preemptive fatwas of the Egyptian Dar Al-Iftaa dealt with the issue of buying and selling currencies in video games because it is legally permissible, but with controls that must be taken into account … the game should not become a daily habit that devolves into an addiction that causes health and psychological issues and mental exhaustion.”

Echoing a finding in the fatwa index that suggested some apps could be used for political exploitation, Othman said ultra-right movements in the West relied on video games to recruit and exploit children and adolescents.

He added that in some online games users were able to create secret networks and chat without surveillance, just as members of extremist organizations like Daesh did.

The most prominent of these was Fortnite — one of the world’s most popular fighting games — as it incited violence, he said.

“ISIS (another name for Daesh) adopts the same terrorist strategy and ideology by exploiting video game platforms to recruit young men and minors, and using hidden channels of communication to ensure anonymity,” Othman said.

Sheikh Sayed Abdulaziz, secretary-general of Egyptian Family House — an initiative started in 2011 that promotes religious coexistence — said that religious institutions, families and educational and media groups needed to work together and heed the warnings about video games.

“The steady and intensive increase in video games and phone applications is difficult to monitor and therefore requires religious institutions to dedicate people to follow up on these developments and issue proactive fatwas regarding them,” he told Arab News.

“The lack of fatwas related to video games directly reaching the youth and children category requires work in parallel with religious bodies, the media, schools and universities.”

He added: “We must also pay attention to following up on new apps and making sure that they are following public morals in order to prevent the spread of material among youths that is religiously or nationally inappropriate.”

 


Egypt slams European Parliament report on human rights situation

Egypt slams European Parliament report on human rights situation
Updated 26 November 2022

Egypt slams European Parliament report on human rights situation

Egypt slams European Parliament report on human rights situation
  • Many Egyptian deputies and politicians voiced their rejection of the European Parliament’s call and asserted that it was blatant interference in Egypt’s affairs

CAIRO: Egyptian MPs and politicians have rejected what they are calling the European Parliament’s “blatant” interference in Egypt’s domestic affairs.

In a statement issued on Friday, the European Parliament called for the immediate and unconditional release of dozens of human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists, activists, politicians and social media influencers currently sitting in Egyptian prisons and for the reversal of the excessive use of arbitrary pre-trial detention in Egypt.

The European Parliament also appealed to the member states of the EU “to support the call for the creation of an international mechanism for monitoring and reporting gross violations of human rights in Egypt at the UN Human Rights Council, as well a deep and comprehensive review of the EU’s relations with Egypt in light of the very limited progress in Egypt’s human rights record.”

Many Egyptian deputies and politicians voiced their rejection of the European Parliament’s call and asserted that it was blatant interference in Egypt’s affairs.

Hind Rashad, a member of the House of Representatives, told Arab News: “I strongly reject all lies and attempts to interfere in the affairs of the Egyptian state.”

His comment came as Egypt’s parliament asserted that the EU position reflected only a biased and subjective view of the reality in the country.

Tamer Abdel Qader, also a member of the House of Representatives, told Arab News that the European Parliament’s statement on human rights in Egypt constitutes “blatant interference” in the affairs of “a country that enjoys all sovereign rights.” He also said the statement violates UN charters, “as it included many lies, fallacies and rumors.”

Abdel Qader added: “This old school has had its...policies exposed more than once, and everyone knows what the intentions of the (drafters) of these policies (are) towards the Egyptian state, which recently launched the National Strategy for Human Rights and laid frameworks for its implementation in front of everyone.

“Among the inaccuracies in the statement is that Egypt executes children, bearing in mind that Egyptian laws criminalize the trial or execution of children…Egyptian laws stipulate that they be placed in care homes for their rehabilitation and integration into society.”

Political expert Hazem El-Gendy, deputy head of the Egyptian Wafd Party, told Arab News that the decision of the European Parliament confirmed beyond any doubt that “there is a state of hostility and ambush adopted by some international institutions against Egypt” and that these are “not sufficiently aware of the developments of the situation in Egypt.”

El-Gendy said: “The resolutions say that Egypt has been living under a state of emergency since 2017, despite the announcement by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to cancel it in October 2021 … The declaration of a state of emergency came in light of the war waged by the state and terrorist groups in Sinai.”

Mahmoud Bassiouni, member of the National Council for Human Rights, also told Arab News that the European Parliament’s statement constitutes meddling in Egypt’s domestic affairs and ignores the efforts of the Egyptian state to improve human rights.

He added that the controversial statement relied on a single source of information.


Amnesty International lauds UN probe into Iran human rights violations

Amnesty International lauds UN probe into Iran human rights violations
Updated 26 November 2022

Amnesty International lauds UN probe into Iran human rights violations

Amnesty International lauds UN probe into Iran human rights violations
  • ‘The cries of the people in Iran for justice have finally been heard’
  • The fact-finding mission comes 73 days on from the murder of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini

LONDON: Amnesty International has applauded the establishment of a fact-finding mission to investigate human rights violations in Iran as “long overdue” given the “dire situation” in the country.
Responding to Thursday’s announcement from the UN Human Rights Council that the “landmark” resolution had been passed, Amnesty’s Secretary-General Agnes Callamard said: “The cries of the people in Iran for justice have finally been heard. It not only enhances international scrutiny of the dire situation, but puts in place a process to collect, consolidate and preserve crucial evidence for future prosecutions.
She added: “We hope it marks a fundamental shift in the international community’s approach to tackling the crisis of systematic impunity that has long fueled crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations in Iran.”
The fact-finding mission comes 73 days on from the murder of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini while in the custody of Iran’s notorious morality police.
Amini’s death ignited a tinderbox of pent-up frustrations over falling living standards and discrimination against women and minorities, and has fueled the most widespread protests seen in the country since the 1979 revolution, with no signs of the protesters backing down.
The fact-finding mission is mandated to “collect, consolidate and analyze evidence of such violations and preserve evidence, including in view of cooperation, in any legal proceedings.”
Amnesty said as the resolution was being negotiated, Iranian authorities continued to reject the findings of UN experts and human rights organizations, and have persisted in widespread use of unlawful lethal force and sought the death penalty for protesters.
Iran has faced repeated cycles of protests since 2018, all of which have been met with violent reprisals.
“States must now ensure that the mandate is made operational and sufficiently resourced without delay and call upon the Iranian authorities to cooperate fully with the mission and allow unhindered access to the country,” said Callamard.
“This vote must also serve as a wake-up call for the Iranian authorities to immediately end their all-out militarized attack on demonstrators.”
Callamard said Amnesty has “consistently” documented crimes under international law committed by Iranian authorities against protesters, including unlawful killings, unwarranted use of lethal force, and mass arbitrary arrests and detentions.
It has also recorded enforced disappearances, torture and other ill-treatment, and the sentencing of individuals to lengthy prison terms or death.
Amnesty said: “Iranian authorities have ignored repeated calls by the international community to open criminal investigations into such crimes.
“Instead, they have sought to destroy evidence of crimes while persecuting survivors and victims’ relatives.”