Syria’s opposition fighters must do more to respect the laws of war after an Internet video appeared to show a rebel leader mutilating and biting into the heart and liver of a dead enemy soldier, Human Rights Watch said.
“It is not enough for Syria’s opposition to condemn such behavior or blame it on violence by the government,” said Nadim Houry, Middle East deputy director at the rights group, in a telephone interview from Beirut today. “The leadership of the opposition has to step up and rein in abuses by some groups.”
In the video posted on YouTube, a man cuts open the chest of a dead uniformed fighter. He removes the two organs, holds them up in his hands and says: “I swear to God, soldiers of Bashar, you dogs, we will eat your heart and livers!”
Human rights groups have accused both sides of atrocities during Syria’s civil war, which began in March 2011 with peaceful protests and turned violent after President Bashar al-Assad’s troops turned their guns on demonstrators. At least 94,000 people have been killed in the unrest, the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said today.
“If you talk about sheer numbers of violations and killings, the government side has inflicted destruction on a scale that isn’t even comparable,” Houry said. “But that doesn’t justify the actions of this one rebel commander.”
“Mutilating or desecrating corpses during a conflict is a war crime,” the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a statement today. “While it is not yet possible to fully authenticate the video, I urge the armed opposition groups in Syria must do everything in their power to halt such gross crimes.”
Human Rights Watch said it identified the group involved as the al-Farouq Brigade from the Baba Amr district of Homs. It’s not known whether the group operates within the command structure of the Free Syria Army, the New York-based group said.
“We’re appalled by this video,” U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters today in Washington. “We’ve been very clear that all sides in this conflict must abide by international humanitarian law.”
The U.S. has “raised this gruesome act” in recent talks with leaders of the opposition Supreme Military Council, “who assured us that they do not support such actions and that this is not representative of the vast majority of the armed opposition,” Ventrell said. An opposition military unit, he said, “had previously ejected this individual because of his history of brutality.”
The Syrian National Coalition said in a statement that “it reiterates its condemnation of such an act and stresses that it is a crime, regardless of the perpetrator.”
Time Magazine reported on May 13 that two of its reporters first saw the mutilation video in April in the presence of several of the brigade’s fighters and supporters, who all told them that the video was authentic.
“Atrocious acts happen,” Houry said. “It is what kind of system is in place to deter them and hold people accountable, this is missing at a local level and at an international level.”
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