Helter Skelter in Syria – Assad Violations Are Everywhere

Syria Displaced MSF Tweet01
Syria Displaced MSF Tweet

According to the United Nations, “With human rights violations at the heart of the Syrian crisis, the UN has called for an immediate end to violence; release of political prisoners; impartial investigations to end impunity, ensure accountability and bring perpetrators to justice; and reparations for the victims.”

The UN reports 3.9 million Syrians are now refugees, and another 7.6 million are displaced in Syria. Of all refugees and displaced, at least 56% are children under the age of 17. UNICEF reports, 2.8 million Syrian children are out of school. For children inside Syria, the reasons are many: insecurity, teachers absent or deceased, and schools destroyed or occupied by warring groups or displaced families. For refugees, it is the cost of books, uniforms and tuition as public schools are not free.

Counting the Martyrs in Syria

Syria Newborn Born Despite Assad01
Syria Newborn Born Despite Assad

There are various agencies that provide counts of the martyrs in Syria. Numbers published can be confusing, especially if the people hearing the numbers don’t understand the criteria. In a phone call with The Washington Post in December 2014, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director, who uses the pseudonym Rami Abdulrahman, said he believed that the real number was something like 280,000 [killed], but he could not confirm it. The Victims Documentation Center (VDC) in Syria publishes the number of martyred at 113,249, however it requires that every person be identified by name. With this strict criteria, the VDC told the Washington Post it did not dispute higher numbers from groups. Occasionally, there is a miracle as in the photo, when a newborn was delivered after the mother died at a field hospital due to injuries inflicted by the regime.

It is most certain that the total number of Syrians who have been killed by this protracted war is artificially low. It is unimaginable how many innocent victims may be buried under the tens of thousands of buildings that Assad’s war machines have collapsed. Also, death statistics do not include deaths correlated to health conditions directly related to Assad’s depraved war tactics. Some examples could include: infections from cuts of the skin, skin diseases, stomach disorders, starvation, freezing to death, lack of maintenance medications (i.e. insulin, dialysis), etc.

The SN4HR documented 1251 people killed in February. The regime forcibly killed “no less than 1044 civilians,” including:

  • 139 children (that is five children per day)
  • No less than 123 women
  • 80 victims who were tortured to death, including one child (that is three deaths under torture per day).
  • (others were killed by Opposition, Kurdish or ISIS fighters)

    The SN4HR documented, “The percent of children and women victims reached 26%, which is a clear indication of the purposed targeting of civilians by governmental forces.” Forcibly killed means killing by any means such as bombing, shelling, sniper, torture, other.

    The Syrian Commission for Transitional Justice, an opposition body, has released a report that documents up to “60,000” cases of “forced disappearances” in Syria since the start of the country’s war.

    The Violation Documentation Center has categorized causes of death for martyrs in Syria by:

    VDC Causes of Death02
    VDC Causes of Death

    Considering all of the deaths and other events that have happened to Syrians, they deserve an explanation, so we have chosen to discuss a few specific event types that highlight the extreme depth of the cruelty of the Assad regime.

    Warning: graphic photos below

    Death by Burning

    Syrian Regime Burning People
    Syrian Regime Burning People

    If there is a cruelest way to die, it was demonstrated to the world when ISIS burned a Jordanian pilot alive on January 3, 2015. This event was widely reported throughout the world, and people responded with “shock and horror.” Throughout the Middle East, it has been said that this type of punishment or behavior is “unknown.” Is it possible that ISIS is learning its’ torture techniques from the Assad regime?

    “Islam prohibits the taking of an innocent life,” Ahmed al-Tayeb, Al-Azhar’s grand sheik, said in a statement, adding that by burning the pilot to death, the militants violated Islam’s prohibition on the mutilation of bodies, even during wartime.

    According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SN4HR), since the beginning of the Revolution the Syrian regime and all of its affiliates (including foreign militias) have burned 81 people to death representing 46 civilians (including 18 children, 7 women), and 35 of the armed opposition fighters).

    The organization has absolute proof of these events and details are explicit. SN4HR says, “Burning individuals to death at the hands of the Syrian regime has received little or no media coverage. Syrian government officials deny carrying out such practices; however such crimes are being embraced and published on several pro-government websites.”

    Below are two examples that although are older in date, demonstrate the depth of depravity this regime sinks to burning people alive:

  • At the end of September 2012, pro-government militias executed 3 persons by throwing them alive into a furnace to burn in Jura neighborhood in Deir Ezzor. Witnesses interviewed reported pro-government militias arrested these 3 persons and threw them alive into a furnace. The remains of the three bodies were found several days later, with empty fuel cans nearby.
  • Syrian Regime burns family in Hama
    Syrian Regime burns family in Hama
  • On September 19, 2012, government forces moved into the Masha’a al-Arbi’n neighborhood in Hama after targeting it with tanks and heavy weapons. Subsequently, a number of young men from the same neighborhood were arrested, handcuffed and gathered in a house to be burned alive by setting the house on fire. SN4HR documented the killing of 9 people by burning during this incident, including 5 civilians including 1 child. The child, Hamzi Kinan, had his four limbs cut off and then he was thrown alive into the fire by regime forces. In addition to that, 4 of the armed opposition fighters were also executed by burning.
  • Executions by burning carried out by the Syrian regime forces and loyal militias by Syrian districts:

  • Hama: 38 people; 7 civilians – including one child – and 31 of the armed opposition fighters.
  • Aleppo: 11 people; 9 civilians – 6 children and 3 women mostly from Safira in Aleppo countryside – and 2 armed opposition fighters.
  • Deir Ezzor: 8 people; 6 civilians and 2 fighters from the armed opposition.
  • Rif Dimashq [Damascus countryside]: 8 civilians; including 4 children and 1 woman.
  • Homs: 6 civilians, including 4 members of one family – including 1 pregnant woman.
  • Tartus: 5 civilians; 4 children and 1 woman.
  • Latakia: 4 civilians; 3 children and 1 woman. 8. Dara’a: 2 civilians.
  • Syria UN Tweet re Caesar Display
    Syria UN Tweet re Caesar Display

    The Assad regime also has a history of burning bodies that have been executed or burning groups of victims that have been massacred. Why burn the bodies of the dead victims? In the fashion of terrorists, the regime burns bodies to take revenge, deter and terrorize communities, and to deform and disfigure bodies to cover up crimes (such as women being sexually assaulted) according to SR4HR. In total, SR4HR, has documented a total of at least 773 cases of people being killed and then their bodies burned since the beginning of the Revolution, including 146 women and 69 children (nearly 28% of victims), in addition to 22 people who died due to torture and then their bodies were then burned.

    Death by Torture

    Since the beginning of the Revolution approximately 13,000 Syrians, including women and children, have been tortured to death in Assad’s prisons. “Eighty of those detainees were tortured to death in February, 2015,” according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights.

    Syria Torture US Senate Presentation
    Syria Torture US Senate Presentation

    According to the VDC, Naser Ibrahem al-Sabsabi was a teacher in the industrial high school in Der el-adas, Daraa. This man was kidnapped, tortured then executed. He was murdered on January 1, 2015 on the east side of Majduiye town.

    Activists in Syria have been reporting for several years that the Assad regime has been selling the organs of prisoners. This issue was recently raised when it was widely reported that ISIS was selling organs. According to CNN, the U.S. State Department said it was aware of the “deeply disturbing comments” about the alleged organ trafficking but wasn’t able to confirm them.

    Detained in an Assad Prison

    There are currently, at least 250,000 people detained in Assad’s prisons, including 9,400 children prisoners under the age of 18 years old. A significant number of Syrians are in prison due to:

  • Syrians’ political opinion is a problem for the regime, such as demonstrators or bloggers
  • Media activists have been detained for getting information outside of Syria for Western media
  • Syrian Arab Army defectors who are arrested and Free Syrian Army members who are arrested
  • Physicians who have helped the opposition wounded (both fighters and civilians) have been detained and some tortured
  • People who may be considered a spy, or have been arrested on any number of other charges
  • Forcibly disappeared people
  • The 9400 children in the Assad regime prisons include 1500 forcibly disappeared children. It should be noted that the Assad regime has made many statements denying the incarceration of children, including the Geneva II Conference in January of 2014.

    According The Telegraph, the Assad regime executed 131 detainees at the 215 Security Branch when pulmonary plague was spreading through the prisoners. The Syrian Association, an opposition group which documents human rights violations said, “the officer in charge of the prison ordered the executions of inmates in dormitory number eight.” Up to 117 people were killed in the first round of mass killings, with a further 14 killed two days later, the group said. The VDC has published a report that says several hundred detainees who were killed in the 215 Security Branch were buried in mass graves in two relatively adjacent areas – Njha, Damascus Suburbs. A killing and mass burial of tortured prisoners was also documented previously from Regime Branch 227.

    The Syrian regime documented evidence of ‘industrial scale’ killing of detainees which investigators say provides “clear evidence of systematic killing of 11,000 detainees” who were brutally tortured by the Assad regime. The evidence was leaked in the form of photos by a former prison photographer named Caesar, some of which are being shown at the UN exhibit mentioned above.

    Nasr al-Hariri, the Secretary General of the Syrian Coalition, the main political opposition body, called on the international community and human rights organizations to “put an end to the grave violations and crimes committed by the Assad regime against detainees, and to impose urgent health control over detention centers.”

    Leaked Video – Abusing, Torturing and Murdering Detainees in Assad’s Prisons in Syria


    The Missing in Syria

    The number of missing in Syria is currently estimated to be at least 600,000, but this number only considers those that are known to be missing. This number may be influenced by factors such as missing people whose immediate family are dead or have left Syria as a refugee. Also, a missing person may not realize they have family looking for them. A doctor located in Syria, who requested to remain anonymous for his safety, told me:

    Syria Aleppo Kids taking care of kids Photo Credit Aleppo Media Center
    Syria: Aleppo Kids taking care of kids
  • Syrians who fought in the war could have returned to their family home finding the home or the whole town or village destroyed. There may not be anyone who knows what happened to the family. The family would then be considered missing. On the other hand, the man is also missing from his family.
  • A person may have suffered a brain injury, amnesia, or an acquired mental illness either from fighting, or in one of Assad’s assaults or prisons In this case, the person may not be able to remember either where they live, their family, or both.
  • Children may be separated from their parents, due to confusion during a bombing, kidnapping or other event. Some very young children are unable to provide adequate information to know how to contact either parents or relatives if their parents have been killed.
  • The other very real circumstance is the missing person has been killed and no one will ever know.
  • It may be very difficult to ever reunite many missing with their families, although there is an effort through the Victims Documentation Center to help reunite them. The VDC has “successfully identified people and brought them back together with families which is a happy ending in an often sad story.”


    The purpose of this article is to put humanity behind the numbers associated with Syria’s escalating humanitarian crisis. It is so easy to hear numbers, then move on. Additionally, there has been so much focus placed on the heinous acts of the terrorist group ISIS, that focus has not previously been put on the Assad regime’s equally vicious criminal behavior. ISIS was brought to Syria by the Assad Regime and Iran to derail the revolution; and most importantly deflect attention away from the regime.

    According to the Daily Beast, “Kerry told CBS News on the fifth anniversary of the Syrian government’s vicious crackdown on popular protests, which triggered the civil war, that the United States is engaged in behind-the-scenes efforts with allies to persuade Assad to negotiate an end to the civil war. Asked if he is ready to negotiate directly with the Syrian strongman, Kerry responded that if Assad is ‘ready to have a serious negotiation’ about implementing an agreement made in Geneva in 2012, ‘people are prepared to do that.'”

    Will a dictator who has acted so violently, and lied so perfectly be someone to be trusted at the negotiating table?

    Much of the behavior that the world is saying is so vile, vicious, and depraved … that must be stopped at all cost in order to protect the people of Syria and Iraq from ISIS, has been “standard operating procedure” for the Assad regime since 2011. The use of Chemical Weapons drew a red line which did not stay red very long. What about a long history of burning people alive?

    On February 26, 2015 Samantha Powers made the following statement at the Security Council Session on the Humanitarian Situation in Syria:

    “We must remember that the rise of these violent extremist groups in Syria would not have happened without the atrocities perpetrated by the Assad regime. And the regime’s ongoing atrocities continue to be the extremists’ best recruiting tool. So any plan that would ally the international community with Assad to confront these violent extremist groups would be completely counterproductive, as it would further fuel ISIL’s rise.”

    Kimberly Jones is a global nomad with a special interest in the Middle East and North Africa. She grew up in Saudi Arabia and traveled throughout the MENA growing deeply attached to the people and the culture.