The U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch has released a report detailing the systematic executions and human rights abuses carried out by rebel groups in Syria.
The report, entitled “‘You Can Still See Their Blood’: Executions, Indiscriminate Shootings, and Hostage Taking by Opposition Forces in Latakia Countryside,” details that, beginning on Aug. 4 at least 20 groups who formed part of the loose coalition known as the Free Syrian Army launched a sustained military offensive in the Latakia region. Two of those groups, named by Human Rights Watch as the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham, as well as Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, are reported to still be holding women and children hostage more than two months after their assault.
“The findings strongly suggest that the killings, hostage taking and other abuses rise to the level of war crimes and crimes against humanity,” Human Rights Watch “>wrote.
“These abuses were not the actions of rogue fighters,” said the group’s acting Middle East director Joe Stork said. “This operation was a coordinated, planned attack on the civilian population in these Alawite villages.”
Through on-site investigations, interviews with more than 35 witnesses, photographs, videos and hospital records, “Human Rights Watch determined that opposition forces unlawfully killed at least 67 of the 190 dead civilians who were identified. For the rest of those killed, further investigation is required to determine the circumstances of their deaths and whether the victims died as a result of unlawful killings,” according to the report.
The operation, which has been called the ”Campaign of the Descendants of Aisha, the Mother of Believers,” the “Barouda Offensive,” or the “Operation to Liberate the Coast,” came 17 days before the chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus, which drew international condemnation and threats of unilateral American military action.
In light of the findings, Human Rights Watch called for the UN Security Council to impose an arms embargo on the rebel groups involved in the Latakia offensive, and urged the case to be referred to the International Criminal Court.
Several Western nations, including the U.S., have both overtly and covertly supplied aid and weapons to the Free Syrian Army, despite concerns that the aid could be funneled to extremist factions within the opposition movement, including al-Qaida.
“Syrian victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity have waited too long for the Security Council to send a clear message that those responsible for horrible abuses will be held to account,” Stork said.