Amnesty International has urged Syrian authorities to protect child protesters amid fresh reports of young people being tortured and killed.
Video evidence has emerged in recent days of two new cases of teenagers – Thamer al-Sahri and Nazir ‘Abd al-Kader – dying after receiving injuries caused by beatings and gunshot wounds.
“Reports that the Syrian security forces have tortured and killed children in their custody would, if confirmed, mark a new low in their bloody repression of protests,” said Philip Luther, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.
“The violent deaths suffered by Thamer al-Sahri and other children are utterly shocking, as is the Syrian authorities’ apparent lack of action to rein in the security forces accused of being responsible for them.”
International media released an amateur video on Thursday purportedly showing the body of 15-year-old Thamer al-Sahri, which was returned to his family in the Syrian village of Jeeza the day before.
He disappeared on 29 April following attempts by villagers to reach the besieged southern city of Dera’a. Some 500 people were reportedly arrested in the area that day.
The video apparently shows his body punctured by bullet wounds and missing one eye and several teeth. His neck and one leg were also reportedly broken.
Thamer al-Sahri is the fourth child reported to have died in custody since March. Syrian human rights activists have reported the deaths under torture of Diyaa Yahya Khatib, 16, from Homs and Saleh Ahmed al-Khateb, 14, from Dera’a during their detention in March and April, respectively.
Protesters in Syria were galvanized by news of the death late last month of 13-year0-old Hamza al-Khateeb. He went missing amid mass arrests near Dera’a on 29 April, and was later reported as being held by Air Force Security.
Syrian authorities denied that Hamza al-Khateeb had been tortured or that his body had been mutilated, saying that he died after being shot by an armed group and that the body had decomposed during the period before it was returned to his family.
A forensic specialist consulted by Amnesty International analysed a video of his body and concluded that the injuries visible indicated that the boy had suffered repeated violence with a blunt instrument while still alive. He also identified evidence of two gunshot wounds, one to the chest, apparently fired at close range, and one to the arm, with lesions suggesting the boy was alive at this point, too.
Yesterday Amnesty International received a video clip showing the body of yet another individual – said to be Nazir ‘Abd al-Kader, probably aged 18 or 19, given reports that he finished his schooling in 2010 – showing evidence of brutal treatment. According to a doctor who examined the body, Nazir’s kneecaps had been smashed, his skull damaged and his neck broken before he was shot. He is believed to have been in the custody of security forces at the time of his death.
Some 32 children, aged between 12 and 17, remain in detention in apparent connection with protests and could be at risk of torture or other ill-treatment. Of these, at least nine are from the southern city of Dera’a.
Demonstrations demanding reform began in February, and from mid-March the Syrian security forces have waged a campaign of violence against the protesters. Amnesty International believes that at least 1,104 people have been killed, including 82 children.
Thousands have been arrested, with many being held incommunicado and reportedly tortured. Amnesty International has documented widespread allegations of torture and other ill-treatment in Syria’s detention centres for decades.
The United Nations Security Council is discussing a draft resolution on the violence in Syria.
“The UN Security Council must act decisively in response to the months of bloodshed in Syria and we believe this should include referring the situation to the International Criminal Court,” said Philip Luther.
“In the absence of serious steps by the Syrian authorities to investigate the current violations, it is time for the international community to ensure that officials responsible for the murder of protesters or the torture of detainees, including children, are brought to justice.”