Human Rights Watch alleges atrocities by rebels in Syria

BEIRUT — Gruesome video footage purportedly showing a Syrian rebel commander mutilating the corpse of a dead soldier while shouting sectarian insults has drawn condemnation from Human Rights Watch and focused renewed attention on battlefield atrocities in Syria.
A statement by the New York-based rights group cites a video circulating widely on the Internet that appears to show the insurgent leader using a knife to cut out the heart and liver from the corpse and then putting the heart in his mouth.
“I swear to God, soldiers of Bashar, you dogs — we will eat your heart and livers!” the commander declares while brandishing the organs, directing his macabre message to Syrian President Bashar Assad. “Oh my heroes of Baba Amr, you slaughter the Alawites and take their hearts out to eat them!”
He is referring to the Alawite Muslim sect, a minority in Syria whose members include Mr. Assad and many of his top security personnel. Most Syrian rebels are members of Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority.
The chilling video appears to be further dramatic evidence of how Syria’s more than two-year civil war may be disintegrating into a sectarian bloodbath, marked by revenge killings along religious lines, and highlights complications in Western efforts to assist fractured opposition military groups.
Human Rights Watch said the man in the video appeared to be a rebel figure known as Abu Sakkar, of the Farouq Brigade, which arose out of fierce fighting last year in the city of Homs’ Baba Amr district. The same brigade had been implicated last month in “indiscriminate shelling” of several Lebanese Shiite villages in the northern Bekaa Valley, just across the border from Syria, Human Rights Watch said.
The brigade is one of scores of rebel factions in Syria that answer to no central command. A Farouq Brigade spokesman said the man in the video has no relation to the group.
The human rights group repeated its call for the U.N. Security Council to refer the Syria situation to the International Criminal Court for possible prosecutions of war criminals on both sides. “One important way to stop Syria’s daily horrors, from beheadings to mutilations to executions, is to strip all sides from their sense of impunity,” said Nadim Houry, the organization’s Middle East deputy director.
In an interview with Time Magazine, Brig. Gen. Salim Idriss, who heads the U.S.-backed Syrian Military Council, a rebel umbrella group, said he hadn’t seen the video, but added that any rebel fighters engaging in such atrocities would be punished. “Look, it is very clear that these kinds of behaviors, this cutting of bodies, is not allowed,” he said.
The Syrian Opposition Coalition said it condemns the “horrific and inhumane act,” which it said contradicts the values and principles of the Free Syrian Army, or FSA. “The FSA is a national army above all, formed to defend civilians and deliver the Syrian people from the mentality of revenge and crime. It completely rejects the ill-treatment of the wounded and the disfigurement of the dead,” the group said in a statement. It vowed to investigate and said as well that if the video is confirmed as genuine, the perpetrator will face justice.
Human Rights Watch said the rebels lacked proper accountability measures. “It is not enough for Syria’s opposition to condemn such behavior or blame it on violence by the government,” Mr. Houry said. “The opposition forces need to act firmly to stop such abuses.”
The video surfaces as Western nations seek to bolster support for fighters on the ground. British Prime Minister David Cameron announced Monday during a Washington visit that his government would double military support to rebels; the Obama administration in February announced its first cautious foray into providing direct nonmilitary aid to opposition forces.

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