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Syria: Indiscriminate Shootings of Civilians Fleeing Country

Human Rights Desk

Syrian soldiers on the border with Jordan appear to be shooting indiscriminately at anyone - including civilian women and children - trying to flee from Syria, Human Rights Watch reports. 

The Syrian authorities should immediately order its armed forces on the border to end all indiscriminate attacks and take all feasible measures to avoid injuries to civilians crossing into neighboring countries, and to respect their right to leave the country.

In mid-June, Human Rights Watch spoke with 17 Syrian refugees in Jordan who said that when they fled in May and June across the border in groups of up to 200 civilians accompanied by members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), Syrian soldiers subjected them to sustained machine gun and sniper fire, killing three civilians and wounding 11. 

“Syria says it is fighting armed terrorists, yet its border forces appear to shoot at everyone crossing the border without distinction,  attacking civilian men, women, children and the wounded the same way they attack fighters,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher and advocate for Human Rights Watch. 

A Syrian army defector told Human Rights Watch that fellow defectors from the Jordanian-Syrian border guard told him they had been ordered to shoot at anyone trying to leave or enter the country without passing through an official border post, and that some of the soldiers refused to carry out the order.

A mother of five children who was caught, and who then escaped to Jordan on her second attempt following her release, described what happened the first time she tried to cross the border:I was with my five young children in a group of 250 people, with many women and children, the elderly and injured people. The FSA was with us. We walked for an hour and reached the Syrian side of the border and realized we were almost in Jordan. Then we heard shooting from nearby and the group scattered. I threw myself onto the ground and covered three of my children with my body. The other two ran away and I heard later they managed to escape across the border.

The shooting lasted for an hour and then the [Syrian] soldiers reached us and took us away [to detain us].Many refugees said they were forced to crawl through the sand or run as fast as they could to cover the remaining 50 – 100 meters before they reached the Jordanian border line.

Refugees said that as soon as they crossed the border, the Jordanian military was present and helped them reach safety.Syria and Jordan share a 375-kilometer border, most of which is desert and uninhabited on both sides. For civilians trying to flee to Jordan, this leaves a stretch of approximately 100 kilometers located in Jordan’s north-west that is suitable for crossing. Civilians are generally crossing with FSA members in Syria’s Daraa governorate, opposite the Jordanian border town of Ramtha where the FSA is better able to operate compared to other parts of the border.

According to Jordanians in Ramtha, the only official border crossing on the Syrian-Jordan border that is theoretically open to anyone wanting to leave or enter Syria is the Naseeb-Jader crossing about 20 kilometers to the north east of Ramtha, while since June 2011 the Ramtha-Daraa crossing has only been open for traders.

Syrian refugees in Iraq also told Human Rights Watch that they came under fire while fleeing Syria. One 19-year-old Syrian refugee in Iraq said that a Syrian border patrol shot at his mixed group of 37 civilians and FSA fighters on April 8 at 2 a.m. when they were about 400 meters from the border. “Shots rang out from the border patrol base toward us,” he said. “I saw two from our group getting shot and dropping to the ground. I don’t know if they survived because after that we all scattered in different directions.”

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Syria has ratified, provides that any person is entitled to leave his or her country, which includes long-term residents such as Palestinians in Syria, and that this right may only be restricted under circumstances "which are provided by law, are necessary to protect national security, public order, public health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others” and which “are consistent with the other rights recognized in the present Covenant."

Syria has made no declaration explaining why civilians, including women, children and the injured, may not leave the country, nor explained why it is using lethal force to try and stop them.Since the beginning of anti-government protests in Syria in March 2011, just over 26,000 Syrians have registered as refugees in Jordan.

Source: Human Rights Watch

02 Jul 2012   10:40:33 AM   Monday
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