UN panel reports high-level Syrian defections

AP News
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Posted: Mar 23, 2012 2:12 PM
UN panel reports high-level Syrian defections

A U.N.-appointed panel of human rights experts said Friday it has new information on high-level Syrian military defections, including four brigadier generals, and on doctors ordered to make patients unconscious during hospital visits by Arab League monitors.

Members of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria told a news conference they also had received new information that unrest outside known areas is becoming significant _ including in the country's second-largest city, Aleppo.

The commission has published two reports during the yearlong Syrian conflict, which the U.N. says has killed well over 8,000 people. Earlier this month, it handed U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay a secret, sealed list of top Syrian officials who could face investigation for crimes against humanity carried out by Syria's security forces against government opponents.

Commission chairman Paulo Pinheiro said that a year after the unrest began, "the chain of command, particularly in the highest level, is almost intact, for several reasons, for loyalty, for fear concerning their families."

Until the report on the generals, he said, "there was no substantial defection in the highest ranks."

Commission member Karen AbuZayd, who formerly headed the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, said one new trend is the increasing number of refugees fleeing Syria, with 15,000 now registered with the U.N. in Lebanon and 16,000 in Turkey.

Pinheiro said the panel and its investigators interviewed 359 people for the first two reports and an additional 70 people in the past week.

He said the investigators have found that fewer Syrians interviewed recently were victims of excessive use of force during the government's crackdown on protesters, "while more and more people appear to be killed or injured in the context of military operations against entire villages."

He added that in some cases, villages were warned they would be shelled if wanted people did not surrender.

Commission member Yakin Erturk, a former U.N. investigator on violence against women, said information from the new refugees indicates that unrest is spreading to previously unknown areas, including Aleppo.

She said information about doctors in Aleppo and at Aleppo Hospital "very much coincides" with the panel's first report, which said patients were being tortured and killed in medical centers.

"New testimony has revealed that doctors have been instructed to make unconscious patients during the Arab League visit, for example," she said. "Our investigators will be looking into these (reports) further."

The monitors were supposed to ensure Syrian compliance with an Arab League plan that President Bashar Assad's government agreed to in December. It called on Syria to remove heavy weaponry, such as tanks, from all cities, free all political prisoners and allow in human rights organizations and foreign journalists.

But the monitors were withdrawn in late January amid criticism that the Arab League mission had failed to stop the crackdown.