|The conference of the Syrian opposition in Turkey is to forge plans for a democratic Syria [AFP]|
The nature and scale of human rights abuses by Syrian security forces in the crackdown on anti-government protesters over the past two months could qualify as crimes against humanity, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said.
In a statement released on Wednesday, the New York-based rights body said interviews with victims and witnesses indicate “systematic killings, beatings, torture using electroshock devices, and detention of people seeking medical care”.
It said abuses by Syrian authorities “strongly suggest that these qualify as crimes against humanity”.
More than 1,000 civilians have been killed by security forces and 10,000 detained since demonstrations first erupted in mid-March, according to human rights groups.
“For more than two months now, Syrian security forces have been killing and torturing their own people with complete impunity,” Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s Middle East director, said in the statement.
“They need to stop and if they don’t, it is the UN Security Council’s responsibility to make sure that the people responsible face justice.”
Call for ICC trial
The statement from HRW came as Syrian opposition members meeting in Turkey called on president Bashar al-Assad’s regime to be put on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for its alleged rights abuses in the crackdown on protesters.
The group also rejected an amnesty offer by al-Assad as a token concession in order to contain the country’s crisis.
The president’s amnesty, aired via state-run media, offered a pardon on all political crimes committed before May 31, and includes all members of political movements, including the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood as well as all political prisoners.
But Ammar Abdulhamid, a Syrian activist attending the conference in the Turkish coastal city of Antalya, said the opposition “rejected” the amnesty offer.
The opposition conference is to close ranks and forge a plan for a “new, democratic Syria”. During the conference, the delegates will form a committee in order to liaise with the international community.
The US, European Union and Switzerland have each ordered an arms embargo, assets freeze and travel ban on al-Assad, besides other senior members of his regime.
Inquiry into boy’s death
Meanwhile, the Syrian government freed hundreds of political prisoners on Wednesday and promised to investigate the death of Hamza al-Khateeb, a 13-year-old boy whose apparent torture and mutilation turned him into a symbol of the uprising against al-Assad’s one-party rule.
Al-Khateeb was arrested during a protest in Saida, 10km east of Daraa, on April 29, and his body returned to his family on May 24, horribly mutilated.
Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told The Associated Press that more than 500 prisoners were freed, including some who took part in the latest demonstrations.