Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Sunday requested that the United Nations (UN) [official website] begin an international inquiry [press release] into Syria's security forces after numerous civilians were fatally shot [WP report] during peaceful anti-government protests earlier this week. HRW also called on the US and UN to issue sanctions against Syrian government officials who are responsible for the excessive use of lethal force and other rights violations against protesters. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, US President Barack Obama, and the leaders of several European nations issued strong condemnations [AFP report] of the April 22 shootings, which resulted in the deaths of at least 80 protesters. HRW Deputy Middle East Director Joe Stork said condemnations from the international community are "not enough" to stop the violence, saying "faced with the Syrian authorities' 'shoot to kill' strategy, the international community needs to impose sanctions on those ordering the shooting of protesters."
This is not the first time Syria has come under fire for its violent use of force against anti-government protesters, which so far have led to 170 deaths [JURIST report]. Earlier this month, HRW reported [text] that Syrian security forces have stopped medical personnel, sometimes violently, from attending to injured protesters. A spokesperson for the group called the practice "both inhumane and illegal." Last month, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [Al Jazeera profile] ordered the formation of a committee [JURIST report] that will discuss repealing the country's 48-year-old state of emergency law that bans protests and allows police to detain civilians without charges. Al-Assad announced earlier in March that the government would consider ending the state of emergency [JURIST report]. Also last month, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] urged the Syrian government [JURIST report] to ensure protesters' rights to peaceful expression and to work toward addressing their concerns instead of responding with violence. As demonstrations continued throughout the country in March, the government freed 260 political detainees [AFP report] in an overture to the protesters.