For Immediate Release: June 7, 2011
Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First is deeply concerned by reports that Syrian security forces are advancing on the town of Jisr al-Shugour, in northern Syria. It is feared that the Syrian armed forces will attack the civilian population of the town in reprisal for clashes in recent days in which 120 members of the security forces are alleged to have been killed. The circumstances in which these alleged killings took place are disputed, with some reports claiming that members of the security forces who refused to fire on civilians were killed by their fellow soldiers.
“Whatever the circumstances surrounding the violence in Jisr al-Shugour, the deliberate targeting of civilians is a crime and can never be justified,” said Neil Hicks of Human Rights First.
There are many reports of unarmed protesters being killed by Syrian forces in recent weeks, but the statements of Syrian government leaders indicating an intention to carry out a harsh reprisal against the people of Jisr al-Shugour raises concerns that the violence in Syria could escalate. Such statements bring up chilling memories of the military assault on the town of Hama in 1982 in which many thousands of civilians were killed, ordered by President Hafez al-Assad, the current president’s father.
Human Rights First calls on the Syrian government to refrain from all use of lethal force against civilians, and to respect the rights of civilians to take part in peaceful protests. It urges the Syrian government to lift restrictions on access to the country for independent journalists and to cooperate with international humanitarian agencies.
“The situation in Syria is worsening. The UN Security Council should urgently adopt the draft resolution condemning violence against civilians in Syria. Syria’s leaders should be put on notice that they will be held to account for the serious international crimes in which they are implicated,” added Hicks.