Mass executions near Turkey border could be war crime: UN
REUTERS PhotoExtremist groups in Syria are committing a “soaring” number of executions in the country’s north that could amount to war crimes, the U.N. human rights office said on Jan 16.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said that over the past two weeks her office has received reports of “a succession of mass executions of civilians and fighters who were no longer participating in hostilities in Aleppo, Idlib and Raqa by hardline armed opposition groups in Syria, in particular by the” al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
She warned that such executions violate international humanitarian law, and the numbers of such violations are thought to be alarmingly high. “While exact numbers are difficult to verify, reliable eyewitness testimony that we have gathered suggests that many civilians and fighters in the custody of extremist armed opposition groups have been executed since the beginning of this year,” Pillay said in a statement.
Two weeks of battles between rebels and jihadists have killed at least 1,069 people, mostly fighters, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said yesterday. The battles broke out when rebels launched an offensive mainly in northern Syria against their erstwhile jihadist allies, whose quest for hegemony and systematic abuses have raised the wrath of those fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Pilay’s office reported that in the first week of January a number of people were executed in Idlib by armed opposition groups. It said that on Jan. 6 in Aleppo three people reportedly held by the al-Qaeda-linked group at its base in Makhfar al-Saleheen were found dead, handcuffed, with bullet wounds in their heads.
Two days later, also in Aleppo, “numerous bodies, again mostly handcuffed and blindfolded, were found in a Children’s Hospital” once used as a base by the group, the U.N. office said, and that at least four local media activists were among the dead, as well as captured fighters from armed opposition groups.
Pillay says there also are “deeply disturbing reports emerging of mass executions” by the al-Qaeda-linked group, both when it withdrew from Raqa and after it regained control earlier this week.
“These reports are particularly alarming, given the large numbers of people, including civilians, that armed opposition groups in Syria are believed to be holding in custody,” Pillay said. “The taking of hostages is prohibited under international humanitarian law and may also constitute a war crime.”