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For Immediate Release

Reports of Summary Executions by Syrian Rebel Forces Are of Grave Concern

Cambridge, Mass. - 11/05/2012

PHR expresses grave concern over reports that Syrian rebel forces allegedly summarily executed members of the government’s armed forces last week and captured the crime on videotape. Those reports followed the online posting of video on November 1 that seems to depict the shooting of unarmed men in Syria’s Idlib Province, by members of an unidentified group of fighters in the ongoing civil war.

Although the video’s authenticity has not been confirmed, it appears to show anti-government forces armed with automatic weapons piling men (some of whom served in Syria’s security forces, according to media reports) on top of one another inside what is reported to be a destroyed military checkpoint, kicking and stomping on some of the men repeatedly. Sounds of apparent gunshots can be heard as the camera shifts away from the sight of the fallen men.

A similar video posted online on July 31 also appears to show rebels executing government forces.

Previously, PHR has documented evidence of grave human rights violations committed on the part of Syrian government forces. The new video may be further evidence that both sides in the conflict are committing atrocities in violation of international humanitarian law. In particular, the video seems to demonstrate that PHR’s previous calls for all parties to the Syrian conflict to respect international humanitarian law have gone unheeded.

Summary execution is a gross violation of human rights, and a war crime when committed during armed conflict. Torture, beating, and ill treatment of persons in custody during war are prohibited by international law.

PHR calls on all parties to the Syrian conflict to immediately end all summary executions, investigate allegations of such crimes, and hold perpetrators accountable according to international legal standards. Crucially, it must be remembered that nongovernment forces and government forces alike are obligated to adhere to international humanitarian law at all times.

Moreover, PHR strongly condemns the murder, cruel treatment, and torture of all persons — civilian or otherwise — who are not actively engaged in fighting, noting that the summary execution or murder of soldiers who have laid down their arms and surrendered to enemy forces is explicitly prohibited by international humanitarian law. These absolute prohibitions especially apply, as the 1949 Geneva Conventions note, to those soldiers who have been placed hors de combat by detention or any other cause.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is an independent organization that uses medicine and science to stop mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. We are supported by the expertise and passion of health professionals and concerned citizens alike.

Since 1986, PHR has conducted investigations in more than 40 countries around the world, including Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Sudan, the United States, the former Yugoslavia, and Zimbabwe.

  • 1986 — Led investigations of torture in Chile gaining freedom for heroic doctors there
  • 1988 — First to document the Iraqi use of chemical weapons on Kurds providing               evidence for prosecution of war criminals
  • 1996 — Exhumed mass graves in the Balkans and Rwanda to provide evidence for               International Criminal Tribunals
  • 1997 — Shared the Nobel Peace Prize for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines
  • 2003 — Warned US Policymakers on health and human rights conditions prior to and               during the invasion of Iraq
  • 2004 — Documented genocide and sexual violence in Darfur in support of international               prosecutions
  • 2010 — Investigated the epidemic of violence spread by Burma’s military junta
  • 2011 — Championed the principle of noninterference with medical services in times of               armed conflict and civil unrest during the Arab Spring
  • 2012 — Trained doctors, lawyers, police, and judges in the Democratic Republic of the               Congo, Kenya, and Syria on the proper collection of evidence in sexual               violence cases
  • 2013 — Won first prize in the Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention with MediCapt, our               mobile app that documents evidence of torture and sexual violence

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