Australia’s foreign minister, Kevin Rudd, has called for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to face trial at the International Criminal Court over “brutal” incidents including the alleged torture and murder of a 13-year-old boy, Hamza al-Khatib. The BBC‘s Jim Muir says that the boy has become an “icon” of the anti-government uprising in Syria which has entered its twelfth week. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the boy’s death is a sign of how “deaf” the Syrian regime is to its own people:
I can only hope that this child did not die in vain but that the Syrian government will end the brutality and begin a transition to real democracy.
Hamza al-Khatib is being hailed as a “martyr” by the opposition and also by the Syrian government. Syrian state media reports that Assad visited the boy’s father and family who reportedly said they were “engulfed … with his kindness and graciousness.” The boy’s father is reported to have said that “The president considered Hamza his own son and was deeply affected.”
Anti-government protesters are now holding pictures of Hamza at demonstrations and comparing him to “the Tunisian market-seller Mohamed Bouazizi and Iranian pro-democracy protester Neda Agha Soltan whose deaths galvanised anti-government campaigns.” The BBC gives this account:
The boy went missing after a demonstration at an army barracks near Deraa in the south at the end of April.
Activists say he was captured and tortured to death, and that his mutilated body was handed back to his family four weeks later.
The government says he received three fatal gunshot wounds during the protest and died on the spot, but there was a delay in handing over his body because he was not identified.
Syrian state TV aired a programme about the teenager on Tuesday night in which a judge said death was due to “a number of bullet wounds without any indication of torture or beating on the body”.
Coroner Akram al-Shaar blamed the state of the body on decomposition, adding: “There are no marks on the surface of the body that show violence, resistance or torture.”
Hamza is not the only young person in Syria who has been detained and tortured. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the Dara’a teenagers whose arrests for writing anti-goverment graffiti were the catalyst for the uprising in Syria were treated brutally:
When released, the children, who were as young as 10, bore burn marks from cigarettes and had fingernails torn out, said human-rights activists and a Deraa resident who said he saw some of them after their release.
The allegations spread, enraging Syrians including the shopworker in Homs, Syria’s third-largest city. “It was so violent to pull nails from children’s hands,” the man said. “We have had enough of oppression.”
Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report on Wednesday saying that the “systematic killings and torture by Syrian security forces” in Dara’a could “qualify as crimes against humanity.”
The Wall Street Journal reports on numerous accounts of Syrians who have been tortured with cuts, burns, blows and worse in a military hospital. Doctors at a facility in Damascus were “pushed by security officers to take part in torture”:
A doctor at a different military hospital, in Damascus, said he had witnessed similar scenes. This doctor said his hospital has an “alternative ER” where people are tortured, with methods that include inflicting cuts and giving patients morphine for several days and then withdrawing it.
Journalists have also suffered brutal treatment by Syrian authorities. In the French newspaper LeMonde, Algerian journalist Khaled Sid-Mohand describes numerous beatings while being detained for almost a month (April 9 – March 3) in a Syrian prison.
Just today, Al-Jazeera reports that an 11-year-old girl, Malak Munir al-Qaddah, was among those killed when the military attacked the town of Hirak with tanks and artillery.
How long can the rest of the world stand by while Syria tortures and kills its own people — its own children?
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Map of Syria from Wikimedia Commons.
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