Syrian government forces committed war crimes [press release] when they killed at least 95 civilians and destroyed hundreds of houses during a two-week offensive in the province of Idlib during ceasefire negotiations, Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] reported Wednesday. The report, titled "They Burned My Heart": War Crimes in Northern Idlib during Peace Plan Negotiations [text], documents various extrajudicial executions, civilian killing, civilian property destruction, arbitrary detention and torture, all of which qualify as war crimes. The attacks are said to have happened in late March and early April while the UN Special Envoy for Syria [official website] was negotiating with the Syrian government to end the violence. Said HRW associate director for program and emergencies Anna Neistat [HRW profile]:
While diplomats argued over details of [the Special Envoy's] peace plan, Syrian tanks and helicopters attacked one town in Idlib after another. Everywhere we went, we saw burnt and destroyed houses, shops, and cars, and heard from people whose relatives were killed. It was as if the Syrian government forces used every minute before the ceasefire to cause harm.HRW has also released a video explaining the findings of its report:
HRW has consistently criticized Syrian security forces for their violent actions against civilians and opposition fighters. Last month, HRW reported [text] that these forces executed more than 100 civilians and fighters during recent attacks, and subsequently asserted [press release] that the government has gone too far without concerns of accountability for their actions. HRW has previously documented abuses committed by opposition fighters [JURIST report], but reasons that such abuses do not justify the government's willful violations of international human rights law. The advocacy group has repeatedly called on the UN Security Council (UNSC) to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official websites], while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon [official website] has also condemned the attacks [JURIST report]. In March, HRW reported that the Syrian government used civilians as human shields [JURIST report] for the army against opposition forces. Also in March, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] voted for [JURIST report] a non-binding resolution condemning Syria for continued bloodshed and human rights violations. This condemnation came just after a demand for a cease-fire [JURIST report] by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] in late February. Also in February, the UN-appointed International Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria accused the government of violating international human rights law [JURIST report] after finding that Syrian forces were engaging in torture and killings under orders from high level government officials. The increasing unrest in Syria has garnered widespread international attention and has sparked controversy regarding America's role in the conflict [JURIST op-ed].