Syria should be suspended from the Arab League and pressure applied to stop the "carnage", an international human rights group said yesterday in a damning report that accused the regime of crimes against humanity in its efforts to crush pro-democracy protests.
The call from Human Rights Watch came as members of the Arab League prepared to meet today in Cairo to discuss Syria, which has reneged on an Arab League-sponsored peace plan it accepted over a week ago, including a pledge to end violence against protesters attempting to bring an end to President Bashar al-Assad's 11-year rule.
Since then, the situation has deteriorated, with at least 14 people reported killed in clashes with Syrian security forces yesterday, most of them in Homs, the besieged city that has become the epicentre of the uprising.
"Homs is a microcosm of the Syrian government's brutality," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "The Arab League needs to tell President Assad that violating their agreement has consequences, and that it now supports Security Council action to end the carnage." As calls for suspending Syria were echoed by protesters in rallies across Syria, the Arab states are under mounting pressure from the international community to act. It is thought unlikely, however, that the organisation will suspend Mr Assad's regime, given deep divisions within the pan-Arab body on the question of Syria.
Nevertheless, HRW's report on the government crackdown in Homs and elsewhere will feed calls for a more robust international response to the situation in Syria, where the UN estimates that more than 3,500 people have died since protests began in March.
In a 63-page dossier focusing on the period between April and August, HRW accused the security forces of using indiscriminate fire against "overwhelmingly peaceful protests", and said hundreds of people had been subjected to "systematic" torture in detention.
More than 110 victims and witnesses were interviewed. One interviewee described an attack on mourners at his cousin's funeral in July. "Four pick-up vehicles with people in uniforms, helmets, and body armour drove up, shooting with their automatic guns and guns mounted on the vehicles. We started running away. The mother and brother of one of the dead were killed next to his coffin."
Torture victims also described how security forces used electric shocks and heated metal rods to burn parts of their bodies and had forced prisoners' legs and heads into tyres to make it easier to flog sensitive parts of their body.