Children in Syria are subjected to “appalling” torture, imprisonment and abduction, and these atrocities should be better documented, a report by British charity Save the Children says.
Posted: September 25, 2012
Drawing on the testimony of Syrian refugee children, the charity calls on the United Nations to increase its presence on the ground.
It says almost every child it spoke to has seen a family member killed.
The report comes at the start of the UN General Assembly’s annual meeting.
Earlier, UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said the situation in Syria was “extremely bad and getting worse”.
Speaking after he had briefed the Security Council following his first visit to Syria since taking up the post, Mr Brahimi admitted he did not have a full plan on how to bring peace.
Although Syria is not formally on the agenda at the UN General Assembly’s annual conference, it is expected to dominate discussions.
Save the Children has documented numerous cases of abuse against children during Syria’s 18 month conflict, which was sparked by unrest over the arrest and torture of children in the town of Deraa.
The children had written a well-known slogan of the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt on a wall.
Lakhdar Brahimi: “The situation is extremely bad and getting worse”
One 15-year-old told the charity he had cigarettes put out on him when he was imprisoned in what used to be his school.
Another described being given electric shocks and sharing a cell with decomposing bodies, while a third teenager, Wael, said he had seen a six-year-old die after being tortured and starved.
The 16 year-old told the report’s authors: “I watched him die. He only survived for three days and then he simply died.”
“He was terrified all the time. They treated his body as though he was a dog.”
Save the Children’s report described the acts as “consistent, recurring and appalling”.
Cat Carter, a spokeswoman for the charity, said: “The stuff I’ve heard from children is absolutely appalling. I’ve heard of children as young as 10 being tortured. I’ve heard of children, as young as eight, helping to remove dead bodies from rubble, with their own hands.”
The UK-based charity called on the UN to increase its presence on the ground to document violations so that perpetrators can be brought to account.
‘No immediate prospect’
Speaking at the UN headquarters in New York on Monday, Mr Brahimi said: “There is no disagreement anywhere that the situation in Syria is extremely bad and getting worse, that it is a threat to the region and a threat to peace and security in the world.”
He said there was “no prospect for today or tomorrow to move forward”, but added “I think that we will find an opening in the not too distant future”.
The BBC’s Barbara Plett at the UN says Mr Brahimi’s mission to forge a political solution seems almost impossible, with the two parties intent on fighting rather than talking, and the Security Council deeply divided.
The UN says more than 20,000 people have been killed since anti-government protests began in Syria in March 2011. Activists put the death toll as high as 30,000.
Violence continued across the country on Monday, with activists saying the government had bombed parts of the second city, Aleppo.
The Local Co-ordination Committees, an opposition activist network, reported that at least 40 people had died in fighting, including 13 in Aleppo.
The group said the victims included three children from one family killed in air strikes in the central district of Maadi.
In addition to the fighting in Aleppo, anti-government activist group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that a five year-old girl and a man were killed during the bombardment of the southern town of Dael, in Deraa province.
Clashes between government forces and rebels were also reported in the north-eastern and north-western districts of the capital, Damascus.
More than 260,000 Syrians have fled to neighbouring countries, the UN says. There are also thought to be more than 1.2 million internally displaced people, and 2.5 million in need of humanitarian assistance.
Egyptian jihadist’s path to Syria
Posted: September 25, 2012
As the Syrian conflict grinds on, the mounting death toll has reduced many of the victims to faceless statistics, among them fighters from abroad drawn by a sense of religious duty. Here, BBC Arabic’s Khaled Ezeelarab tells the story of one such jihadist, and the path which took him from Cairo to the front lines against Bashar al-Assad.
Abubakr Moussa’s family is not quite what one would expect of a jihadist. The men are clean shaven, Abubakr’s father smokes and his sister wears the kind of headscarf worn by most Egyptian women.
A graduate from an English school in one of Cairo’s upper-middle-class suburbs, Abubakr did not become particularly religious until he entered university. It was then that he started growing his beard and spending a lot of time at the mosque.
When he graduated he refused to marry the young woman from a rich family chosen by his parents – instead he married a Russian widow from Chechnya whose brother he came to know at the mosque.
The woman already had two children and soon Abubakr was supporting all three, in addition to his new baby girl, Mariam.
‘Fighting for oppressed’
As much as he enjoyed the company of his new family he was nevertheless quite restless, says his 83-year-old father, Ibrahim.
“He felt he had an obligation to fight for oppressed Muslims anywhere,” he says.
And so it was that Abubakr flew to Russia hoping to make his way to Chechnya and join Islamist rebels there.
He failed and was sent back by Russian authorities. Shortly afterwards he was arrested by Egyptian police and detained for six months, and by the time he was released his wife had left him.
Abubakr remarried, this time to an Egyptian woman from a conservative religious family, and the couple settled at his parents’ house in the provincial town of Fayoum.
Perhaps not unexpectedly, given his history with the Egyptian authorities, he enthusiastically joined the uprising against Hosni Mubarak last year.
But as the Arab Spring spread to other countries, Abubakr yearned to join the fight of other Muslims against their rulers.
He took part in a convoy to provide Libyan revolutionaries with humanitarian assistance. It is not clear if he joined in the actual fighting, and his parents say they do not know.
He also took part in a march towards the Israeli border with Egypt, in what was known at the time as the Third Intifada – a failed attempt by some Arab activists to cross into Israel and start the “liberation of Palestine”.
Then came Syria. Abubakr’s family insists he was not part of an organised campaign to send Islamist fighters to a holy war against Bashar al-Assad.
“He acted on his own, it was a personal initiative,” says his father.
Perhaps it was, but one of the last postings Abubakr put on his Facebook page before travelling to Syria, was an advertisement for a “relief convoy” organised by an ultra-orthodox Islamic group with contacts in Egypt and Lebanon.
Whether this relief convoy was a front for a fighters’ convoy is not clear, but in any case Abubakr made his way in March to Lebanon and from there to Syria where he joined the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA).
A comrade who met Abubakr in those first days of his Syrian venture told me that the Egyptian fighter quickly became known for his deep religious knowledge.
“He always led us in prayer,” he said. “He soon became famous among all the neighbouring battalions [of the FSA] and they would ask him to join them.”
Abubakr seems to have joined battles almost everywhere in Syria; he fought in Homs, al-Qasir, Damascus and Idlib.
It was from this last town that he wrote on Facebook on 31 August, telling his friends: “I am happy to inform you, brothers, that 17 thugs have been killed and 40 others injured in a unique operation carried out by your Mujahideen brothers.”
It was his last posting. The following day he was killed, aged 35, in an attack by Syrian government forces.
His family is in grief but say they are not regretful.
“He has been seeking martyrdom for many years,” says his father, “now God has made him achieve his goal.”