Human Rights Watch alleges human rights abuses carried out by Syrian opposition

On March 19, Human Rights Watch wrote an open letter to the Syrian opposition group urging them to work to ensure that its members do not kidnap, torture or carry out executions against pro-government forces and civilians, as evidence has suggested.

HRW has documented the human rights abuses that the pro-government have carried out, such as torture, disappearances and indiscriminate shelling of neighborhoods. However, with new evidence suggesting that the opposition group is also violating human rights, the HRW is calling on opposition group leaders, like Syrian National Council (SNC) and its Military Bureau, to condemn these practices and urge its members to stop abusing human rights.

These abuses have also been documented by the UN-mandated Commission of Inquiry in its February 2012 report.


There have been several witnesses that have told HRW that non-start armed groups identifying themselves with the opposition group have kidnapped civilians and pro-government security forces.

Here is one story from “Samih:”

Samih is a Syrian activist who has worked closely with the Free Syrian Army in Saraqeb. He told HRW that while he was in Saraqeb, he saw residents complain to FSA multiple times that the Al-Nur batallion, “a Salafist group that is not part of the official FSA structure, was kidnapping civilians for ransom.” “Samih” told FSA that the people were tired of the batallion doing this and he asked FSA to intervene.

The FSA has also kidnapped soldiers of the pro-government regime and ask their parents to pay a ransom, “Samih” told HRW. On one occasion, the FSA kidnapped a colonel from the Presidential Guard in Saraqeb. In response, the military kidnapped  two children- a 15 and 16 year old. “Samih” worked with the FSA and local government officials to negotiate a trade. In the end, “Samih” was able to negotiate a trade between the government and FSA, and the children were released.

They would kidnap them and ask their parents to pay a ransom to let them go. One time, the FSA in Saraqeb kidnapped a colonel from the Presidential Guard. In return, the military kidnapped two children from Saraqeb. The children were 15 and 16 years old. I was working with the FSA members and local government officials to negotiate a trade. At one point, the family members of the two kids called me pleading that I speed up the negotiations as much as possible. They said that they got a call at home from the captors and that they could hear their kids being tortured. They told them their kids would be released when the FSA released the colonel. We were able to negotiate a trade for the colonel and the kids have now been released.


HRW has viewed approximately 25 videos from YouTube where it appears that pro-government forces or alleged supporter have confessed to crimes, but it appears that these confessions were made under duress. In about 18 of the videos, the video shows detainees with bruises, bleeding or other signs of physical abuse.

These three individuals are described as shabeeha (text under video). “In the video they are shown on their knees during this interrogation, their hands bound. The face of one is clearly badly bruised. They all identify themselves as Shia, from el Rabwie, Homs, and “confess” that they were killing peaceful protesters,” according to HRW.


There has also been video footage and interviews indicating that members of FSA have carried out executions suspected of committing crimes against the opposition group.

related articles: Human Rights Watch and L.A. Times


Human rights abuses are human rights abuses. It does not matter what the cause you are fighting for or who you are. If this is true, the fact that the Syrian opposition group is carrying out atrocities that they are in fact condemning is appalling and contradicts what they are working towards. Granted, not all members of the opposition force are carrying out these gross human rights abuses and not everyone can be held accountable, but for those who are carrying out these abuses, I hope they realize they are hindering what they are working for. Their cause is a good one, but only if they comply with humanitarian and human rights law. If they become victorious by carrying out these abuses, they are no better than the group they toppled.


About Haley Behre

I graduated from Syracuse University in December 2011 with majors in newspaper journalism and women and gender studies. Using these majors, I aspire to become a journalist who writes about human rights issues. I have held internships at the Syracuse New Times, Dash Media PR Firm, Syracuse Post-Standard and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. I also had an internship at the Not For Sale Campaign Syracuse chapter, which is a non-profit organization dedicated to eradicating human trafficking. I was born in Seoul, Korea on September 30, 1990 and moved to the United States before I was one year old. When I was 8, my family and I moved to Norwich, England for three years. While I was here I was immersed into a new culture and got to experience many things other children my age do not get to. Over the three years, I visited Ireland, France and the Netherlands several times, and Belgium, Wales and Sweden once. In the winter of 2010, I got an amazing opportunity to visit Kenya for a month. This was by far the single most eye-opening experience of my life thus far. The natural beauty of the landscape and its people do not compare to anything I have seen. I currently intern for the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press in the hopes of getting a full-time job at a newspaper or non-profit after.
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