“Little Juma’a, eight years old, was shot in throat and in the palms of both hands; he was holding his hands up when he was shot.”
Juma'a Yousef al-‘Issa, his brother, Ibrahim, and their cousins Noureddine and 'Izzeddeen ‘Ali, were grazing sheep on the fields near their village of al-Bashiriya on 8 April, when soldiers approached. The soldiers told the told the four children to kneel on the ground, and shot them dead on the spot. We know this from the testimonies of other children who were grazing sheep nearby – they managed to hide from the soldiers in time, and ran back to the village to tell the family.
That same morning, a farmer, Sa’id Ibrahim Fara’a, was walking along the road when an army convoy passed:
“A pick-up truck with a machine gun mounted at the back came by near Sa’id as he was walking on the road and shot him in the head from close by and continued on its way. The left side of his head was literally blown off. There was no reason for killing him, he was just walking on the road.”
For over a year, the world has watched while Syrians face increasingly brutal attacks from government forces and opposition groups alike. There have been surges in media coverage in the headlines here of shaky, bloody footage from inside Syria: the decimation of Homs in February, the mass graves and mourning parents in Houla this month. But the footage is often unverified, the messages coming out of the country mixed. Amnesty, like other international human rights organisations, has repeatedly sought permission from the Syrian government to enter the country and investigate the claims. Time and time again, we have been refused that permission. But the increasing gravity of the situation in Syria led us to take the decision to carry out research in the country for ourselves, undercover. And your funds helped to make that happen.
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The stories of Juma’a and Sai’id’ are among hundreds of testimoniesdetailing extrajudicial and indiscriminate killings of civilians by Syrian security forces, collected by our researcher, Donatella Rovera, during March and April of this year. Each witness recount is heart-breaking. But the stories must be told.
Safwan, a former police officer, was reclusive. His relatives found him.
“He had been shot in the head and was still holding his blanket over his head as if he had been afraid when he was shot dead.”
Yousef and Bilal were construction workers. They had taken part in some peaceful demonstrations. Soldiers shot them in the head outside their home and left the bodies burning.
“We filled buckets of water and I ran out barefoot and my daughter who had run out ahead of me screamed ‘my brothers are burning’. Yousef and Bilal were burning on the ground with several motorbikes piled over them.”
The woman in the photo on the right witnessed her three sons being dragged from their home on 23 March. The soldiers killed and burned them.
“They killed my sons, the dearest things I had, and then they desecrated their bodies by setting them on fire. How can a mother endure such pain?"
The relentless brutality is overwhelming. Every testimony is drenched in fear.
“I would rather die than go back to prison.”
“I did not tell him I had been tortured because I was afraid I would be tortured again.”
But we must keep recording. Many of the monstrous acts we have documented can be classified as war crimes, and crimes against humanity. When the hell is over, this evidence will be crucial in bringing the perpetrators before the International Criminal Court, if, as it should, it gets to that stage. But in the meantime, we keep recording.
Your donations early this year helped to fund this research. Please, if you are able, help us to keep collecting evidence: we cannot turn away from Syria now.