Human Rights Voices

While the UN devotes its human rights operations to the demonization of the democratic state of Israel above all others and condemns the United States more often than the vast majority of non-democracies around the world, the voices of real victims around the world must be heard.

Syria, April 23, 2012

U.N. Observers Prove Little Deterrent to Syrian Attacks

Original source

The New York Times

BEIRUT, Lebanon - Syrian government forces engaged in a bloody game of cat and mouse against United Nations observers on Monday, seeming to punish cities like Hama after the monitors left for daring to protest, and adopting a low profile as the monitors visited the Damascus suburbs.

In Hama, soldiers walking through the streets of Arbaeen and other neighborhoods that had protested burst into schools to detain students, hauled people out of their homes - shooting some who resisted - and set numerous houses on fire, according to the activist organization Avaaz. Brief videos on YouTube showed burning houses and patrolling soldiers, as well as a row of what seemed to be corpses wrapped in blankets.

Hama, which had been quiet a day before when the United Nations team visited, boomed repeatedly as shells exploded in the Arbaeen and Mashaa al-Arbaeen neighborhoods, according to activists and videos posted on YouTube. The videos showed plumes of smoke erupting over low, dun-colored houses.

The ability and willingness of government forces to strike civilian centers even with monitors in the country seemed only to confirm widespread feelings in Syria of the futility of the mission. The observers' unwillingness to rove around the country on Fridays - the day of protest - was the first sign to many among the opposition who saw it as a toothless operation from the start.

"There has been an unprecedented deployment of security forces all around the northern part of the city," said Ahmad, an activist in Hama reached via Skype. "This is Annan's gift," he added, referring to Kofi Annan, who negotiated the ostensible cease-fire under United Nations auspices. Activist organizations put the death toll around 30, with some reportedly killed by machine-gun fire.

Ahmad, who used only one name for fear of retribution, said the armed forces seemed to be targeting those neighborhoods in Hama where hundreds had turned out to demonstrate against the government while the inspectors were in the city on Sunday.

In the Damascus suburb of Douma, which witnessed a violent government assault on Sunday, the soldiers faded into the background, witnesses said. Instead, a raucous crowd of hundreds materialized on the streets, mobbing a small knot of inspectors and chanting for the fall of the Syrian government.

In another town near Damascus, Zabadani, activists complained that the six inspectors barely spent any time, using most of it to visit the local government headquarters and skipping areas destroyed by shelling. A video described as having been shot in Zabadani on Monday showed the distinctive white United Nations vehicles driving past a tank and an armored personnel carrier that were parked on the main square in flagrant violation of the six-point peace plan. That plan calls for the return of the military to its barracks.

"At least the Arab observers listened to us," said Fares Mohamed, an activist reached via Skype, referring to the short-lived Arab monitoring mission abandoned earlier this year in the face of escalating violence. He said that numerous activists had risked exposure by trying to go meet the monitors and that in a pattern repeated elsewhere, as soon as inspectors left, the security forces inaugurated a sweep to try to arrest those who had showed up to complain. The only official comment from Syria was a brief item on the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency, which merely listed the towns where the inspectors went. It reported that "armed terrorist groups," its label for all government opponents, had assassinated two military men in Hama as well as an officer and a doctor in the southern city of Deraa.

The United Nations also had no comment about the visits, with a spokesman saying he was awaiting a report from the observers. An advance team of about 10 members has deployed in Syria out of an expected mission of 300 observers approved over the weekend by the Security Council.

At the United Nations, the head of the political affairs department noted that Syrian government pronouncements about acting on the truce agreement went unfulfilled.

"The cessation of armed violence remains incomplete," B. Lynn Pascoe, the under secretary general for political affairs, told the Security Council during a debate on the Middle East. While the observer mission revealed its limitations, Europe and the United States sought ways to continue to put pressure on the government in Damascus.

European foreign ministers agreed unanimously on Monday to ban the sale of luxury goods, with a list to be drawn up in the coming weeks. It will probably include things like luxury cars, yachts, jewelry, fine wines, art and expensive home furnishings. "We are really trying to make sure the sanctions target the regime," and not ordinary Syrians, said Maja Kocijancic, spokeswoman for the European Union foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton.