March 12, 2015
The New York-based Human Rights Watch documented the Syrian government’s use of human shields early in the war, when regime-affiliated militias in Idlib forced civilians to march in front of them during battle.
Now activists say that the regime has expanded its human shield tactics.
Of the tens of thousands that have been arrested since the conflict began four years ago, including many without due process, human rights observers say that regime forces have used many as human shields in battle.
“The regime prefers a specific type of detainee to use as a human shield,” says Rahal Wahid, the director of the Law Office for Documenting Human Rights Violations in Syria, a Turkey based-organization recording war crimes in the conflict.
After careful study of their detainees, Wahid says, “they especially target intellectuals…and throw them into the front lines.” This way “the regime gets rid of detainees…who have revolutionary and political ideas.”
Wahid, a lawyer originally from Latakia, is now based in Turkey near the Turkish-Syrian border, but regularly crosses into Syria to gather information. He says he cannot place a number of detainees as human shields because they are counted as regime casualties.
“The regime re-brands them as loyal soldiers killed on the battlefield in most instances, while the revolutionaries and activists see them as martyrs of the Syrian revolution, Wahid tells Syria Direct’s Noura al-Hourani.
Q: How does the regime use civilians and detainees as human shields?
The regime prefers a specific type of detainee to use as a human shield—they select the most dangerous and influential ones through a detailed study of them, especially [targeting] the intellectuals.
After classifying the detainees, every [security] branch prepares a number of them to be used as human shields in hot spots that are difficult for regime forces to enter. Then they throw [detainees] into the front lines of the fighting.
Q: How does the regime benefit by using detainees or civilians as human shields on the battlefronts?
When the regime uses civilians or detainees as shields on the active fronts, they force the rebels to withdraw or cease firing out of fear for the lives of these individuals.
From another angle, the regime gets rid of detainees, especially intellectuals who have revolutionary and political ideas.
Q: How is the regime able to control the detainees while they are on the fronts?
The regime uses double-dealing and lies to deceive the detainees by claiming they are transferring them to more secure areas or that they are being transferred for sentencing. As for those thrown into the fronts, they are given certain types of drugs in order to make it possible to control their movements. This is something very serious that has been documented in a number of cases.
Q: In which areas has the regime previously used human shields?
According to what has been documented by civilian activists, the regime used detainees and civilians as human shields in the Damascus countryside, the Idlib countryside, Al-Qusayr in Homs province, in Daraa and the provincial countryside and in Aleppo, specifically near the two Shiite villages of Nubul and Zahra.
Q: How are you all able to confirm and document these violations?
There isn’t a precise and completely professional way to confirm and document these instances. However, we document by means of activists and civilian correspondents that work with revolutionaries.
In addition, some documentation comes from published leaks from regime employees working in detention facilities. [From those leaks we learned], detainees are sometimes used as human shields in order to raid prisons in times of difficulty inside.
Q: Have you all faced difficulties in documenting these instances?
We face many difficulties in the documentation processes because of the difficulty of getting leaked information from the side of the regime with regard to detainees. I believe that many of the liquidation [killing] operations of detainees have occurred without documentation.
Q: In the instances in which these detainees die [as human shields], are they recognized as being a detainee or as soldiers of the regime army?
The regime views them as loyal soldiers that were killed on the battlefield in most instances, while the revolutionaries and activists see them as martyrs of the Syrian revolution.
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