Some units of the Free Syrian Army are reported today to have summarily executed opponents under their control, in Aleppo. This is a wrong turn for the opposition, a sad and erroneous step on the path leading to the more widespread commission of war crimes by the rebels, and to certain ruin.
(1) “Regime loyalists ‘executed’ in Syria’s Aleppo; Video of apparent execution emerges as fierce fighting continues over control of the country’s largest city,” Al Jazeera, August 2, 2012 (04:01 h). This article also includes a report on the massacre of some 50 men in a suburb of Damascus by al-Assad’s military forces.
(2) J. David Goodman, “Video Said to Show Execution by Syrian Rebels Stirs Debate,” New York Times, August 1, 2012.
(3) Ian Black (Middle East editor) and Martin Chulov (in Antaky), “Syrian army pounds Aleppo as video appears to show rebels’ revenge killings; Regime forces use artillery and aircraft to attack parts of Syria’s second city as Assad praises army for facing ‘terrorist gangs’, The Guardian, August 1, 2012 (14.05 EDT). Black and Chulov quote Bashir al-Haji, spokesman for the FSA’s Tawhid (“Unity”) Brigade, who told the Guardian in a telephone interview:
“We were able to kill 20 of them and arrest another 50,” he said. “We held a field trial for them. We have judges and lawyers who are in the opposition. They found that seven of the Berri clan were involved in killing and they decided to execute them. Others are being kept for trial after the collapse of the regime.”
The statement shows the FSA is aware of the laws of war. Whether field trials were actually held or not unknown. It sounds dubious.
(4) BBC, “Syria conflict: Aleppo shootings by rebels condemned; Human rights activists have condemned the public shooting in Syria of four apparent Assad loyalists by rebels in the battleground city of Aleppo,” BBC News, August 1, 2012.
(5) Erike Solomon, “Casualties of Aleppo’s grizzly war mount,” The Daily Star, August 2, 2012. Solomon quotes rebels approving of the killing of a government troop in detention, but also reports on the rebles field hospital treating governmnet soldiers as well as rebels.
(6) See also Amnesty International, “Syria: From all-out repression to armed conflict in Aleppo,” August 1, 2012. The news release contains a link to the full Amnesty International Report, “All Out Repression: Purging Dissent in Aleppo, Syria,” August 1, 2012.
By committing war crimes themselves, the rebels undercut the moral justification of their cause. Those who are supporting them now, with weapons, money, intelligence, and logistics and coordination, will come under enormous pressures to diminish or end their support of the insurgents if they continue to commit or tolerate the commission of war crimes.
Part of the problem is that foreign countries have not intervened enough, and soon enough, to help train the rebels in the laws of war (humanitarian law) and to establish processes for holding rebels accountable for the commission of war crimes when they occur. The Free Syrian Army obviously needs to expand its capacity for handling prisoners without abusing them, at the earliest possible date.
What many in Syria are fighting for is the opposite of al-Assad, involving respect for the fundamental rights of individual human beings, and the establishment of the rule of law.
The reports today of summary executions by the rebels constitutes a decisive turning point. If the rebels allow the commission of war crimes to pass without condemnation, they risk losing the moral legitimacy which has enabled their cause to elicit support from abroad.
At a second level, the reported summary executions carried out by insurgents in Syria makes it all the more imperative that the U.N. Security Council refer the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria to the International Criminal Court, at the earliest opportunity.
Both the government forces and militias of Bashar al-Assad and the forces which oppose him, including the Free Syrian Army, must be held accountable for the commission of war crimes, and other international crimes including crimes against humanity.
The Security Council should take up a resolution conferring jurisdiction on the ICC for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other international crimes committed in Syria, whether by the government or by rebel forces, forthwith.
The Trenchant Observer
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