At least 70 killed nationwide; massacre of 50 in Houla; U.N. International Commission on Syria Update—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update # 43 (May 25)

Periodic Update Report by Independent Commission of Inquiry

The U.N. appointed Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria published a Periodic Update report on May 24, adding to its previous findings. The report is found here.

For a U.N. news article on the report, see

UN News Centre, “UN human rights probe panel reports continuing ‘gross’ violations in Syria,” May 24, 2012.

Excerpts from the Periodic Update report:

2. The Commission remains extremely concerned about the human rights situation in the country where gross violations continue unabated in an increasingly militarized context, despite the parties to the conflict having reached agreement on the Joint Special Envoy’s “six-point plan”. Most of the serious human rights violations documented by the Commission in this Update were committed by the Syrian army and security services as part of military or search operations conducted in locations known for hosting defectors and/or armed persons, or perceived as supportive of anti-government armed groups. The army employed the wide range of military means, including heavy shelling of civilian areas. The Commission received several accounts that anti-government armed groups are also committing human rights abuses.

11. Accounts indicated that the security forces used precise shelling to target small opposition strongholds as well as indiscriminate shelling – dropping shells among residential areas and in neighborhoods suspected of harboring opposition fighters or supporters. After the shelling, security forces would enter the area, position snipers on rooftops, often on school buildings, and conduct house-to-house searches. Repeated accounts of extra-judicial killings in this context were also received. Fighters in anti-government armed groups were killed after being captured or wounded. In some particularly grave instances, entire families were executed in their homes – usually the family members of those opposing the government such as the family members of Colonel Raid Al Asaad.

14. Children continue to suffer in the context of the on-going events in the Syrian Arab Republic. They are frequently among those killed and injured during attacks on protests and the bombardment of towns and villages by state forces. The Commission recorded an incident where several people were allegedly executed in Taftanaz in April 2012, when that village was raided by Government forces. There were five people under 18 among the deceased. Additionally, specific reports of children being killed by snipers arose in two separate villages in Idlib (January and March 2012). In areas where anti-government armed groups hold sway, boys older than 14 years are reportedly targeted as members of such groups. Children, including boys as young as 10 years of age, detained by State forces, repeatedly indicate that they are tortured to admit that older male members of their family are “Free Syrian Army” soldiers or supporters.

18. The Commission has received multiple reports of the extra-judicial executions of members of the army and security forces, suspected informers and/or collaborators captured by anti-government armed groups. Two such incidents occurred in Homs in April 2012. In corroborated statements taken from anti-government fighters, the Commission recorded instances where members of Government forces perceived to have committed crimes – for example, by participating in the shelling of civilian areas –were executed or captured. A defector who fought in the ranks of Al Farouk Brigade “FSA”) in Homs city stated that members of the government forces, including what he claimed were three Iranian snipers, were summarily executed after they apparently confessed. One anti-government armed group fighter also admitted that he and his associates had killed Government soldiers when the captives refused to join them.

50 Civilians Killed in Massacre at Houla (Homs Province)


“13 children die in renewed fighting in Syria; More than 70 people, including 13 children, were reportedly killed in a day of intensified fighting across Syria on Friday,” The Telegraph, May 25, 2012 (10:28 BST).

Conal Urquhart, “Syrian troops ‘kill 50’ near Homs; Ban Ki-moon says some progress has been made, but overall situation remains very serious in further day of bloodshed,” The Guardian, May 25, 2012 (1826 EDT).

Urquhart describes the level and intensity of violence on Friday:

At least 50 people, including 13 children, were killed when Syrian forces attacked the town of Houla in Homs province on Friday according to Syrian anti-government activists.

In other areas of Syria, activists said that a further 33 people were killed. The Syrian government news agency said that 17 people had been killed by anti-government gunmen. None of the figures could be independently verified.

The surge in violence came as Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general told the UN security council there had been some progress in reducing violence, but the overall situation remained very serious.

Reports from activists and the government suggest that violence took places in dozens of areas involving helicopter gunships, tanks, artillery, roadside bombs and small arms.

The most intense violence appeared to take place in Houla, a group of four villages near Homs where Syrian security forces opened fire on an anti-government protest. Anti-government forces retaliated and the army began shelling the area, killing an estimated 50 people, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the local co-ordination committees.

Activist Ahmad Kassem told Reuters: “The soldiers are shelling Houla right now, the casualties are huge.”

The largest demonstrations since the unrest began in March 2011 were reported in Aleppo, where the government introduced tanks for the first time.


Still, the international community remains paralyzed in the face of  barbarism in Syria.

Kofi Annan continues to carry water for the Russians, dragging out his abortive intervention with plans for yet another trip to Damascus. To what end?

We already know all that we need to know, to wit:

1. The Syrian government is committing crimes against humanity and war crimes in crushing the opposition.

2. President Obama, fearful that Syria might affect his reelection prospects, went so far as to say at Camp David that the Group of Eight were in agreement on Syria. If so, that is only because the U.S. and NATO have caved into accepting the Russian position of supporting the Kofi Annan peace plan and observer mission–in the face of al-Assad’s total non-compliance with its provisions. This amounts to supporting al-Assad while he continues to commit atrocities.

3. There are news reports that the U.S. is covertly coordinating the provision of arms to the armed opposition in Syria, while it states publicly that it supports the Security Council 6-point peace plan, which includes “no foreign intervention” as one of its key points.

4. No one remembers what is actually in the Kofi Annan plan, such as guaranteeing foreign journalists free access to Syria, guaranteeing the right of citizens to demonstrate, or providing the names and whereabouts of those who have been detained, and processing their release. If they remembered, they might at least demand compliance.

5. Nothing is going to change, absent some dramatic intervention by some leader of some country. Resolution 2043 which established the 300-member UNSMIS observer team was adopted on April 21, and will remain in effect until its expiration on July 21, 2012 (90 days after its adoption).

6. Everyone seems happy to watch the war crimes and crimes against humanity continue at least until then. They wring their hands and cry out in helpless wonder, but no one is willing to do anything about it.

7. There are no leaders from the great democracies of the West, or from NATO, or from the Arab League countries, who have the courage to challenge President Obama’s passivity and craven surrender to Russia’s cynical policy objectives in Syria–desite the enormous suffering and loss of life that has occurred to date, and which continues.

8. This is surely one of the darkest pages in the history of the United Nations.

9. It is surely one of the darkest pages in the history of the Western democracies since the end of World War II, and the Nuremberg Trials.

10. For all apparent purposes, the Nuemberg Principles now seem to be forgotten, almost as if they were dead.

11. The Responsibility to Protect, which achieved growing support after 2005, and was particularly relevant in Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) and in Libya in 2011, now appears to be but a distant dream.

12. As we try to deal with the situation in Syria, it seems as if we have moved backwards to the situation which existed before World War II.

What will it take for some leader, in some democratic country, or some country in transition, to do something to abort the Kofi Annan mission, the  UNSMIS observer misssion which can observe but not protect, and the increasing militarization of the civil war in Syria–and to do so in the full light of day?

The worst-case scenario seems to be the one we are now following, with

1. some limited but ineffective covert action coordinated by the United States;

2. a totally failed and ill-conceived “mediation” effort by the Security Council blocking any constructive thought or action in public;

3. accelerating movement toward reigniting the civil war in Lebanon;

4. growing danger that the civil war in Syria will degenerate into ethnic conflict similar to that which took place in the Balkans and in Iraq; and

5. strong prospects that the long, drawn-out covert war Obama may be carefully planning, with his fine intellectual distinctions (such as coordinating the provision of arms, as if that weren’t providing arms–the kind of legal analysis you might get from a lawyer who has never practiced law), will have highly dangerous and unpredictable impacts and outcomes.

Is it not time to act, and to act forcefully to halt the killings and other abuses of fundamental human rights?

If not now, when?

Covert war in Syria. Is that the best we can do?

The Trenchant Observer

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James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.