Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International Issue Statements on the Syria Norouz Shooting


Following the March 21 shooting at Kurds celebrating Norouz (new year) in the town of Ar-Raqqah, which left at least one person dead, the international human rights organizations Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have issued statements today.

According to Kurdish reports, 15 minutes into the celebration members of the Baath party arrived at the location where Kurds have gathered to celebrate the holiday with flags and posters of the Syrian president. The Baath members provoked the Kurds, and for no reason security forced fired tear gas at the crowd and opened fire. The shooting resulted in the death of at least one person, injuring 41 people. Most of the injured and detained have been barred from receiving visitors in their hospital and prison wards. This raises the concern that they are subjected to torture or ill-treatment at the hands of Syrian agents.

Bellow are the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International statements:

Syria: Investigate Security Force Shooting of Kurds

Families Denied Access to Wounded after Clash at New Year Celebration
March 26, 2010

(New York) – Syrian authorities should conduct an independent investigation into the shootings by security forces on March 21, 2010, that left at least one person dead and others wounded at a Kurdish New Year celebration in Northern Syria, Human Rights Watch said today.

The authorities also should grant families immediate access to wounded relatives who were transferred to hospitals in the towns of Raqqa and Aleppo, Human Rights Watch said.

“Syrian officials need to find out why a New Year celebration turned into a tragedy,” said Joe Stork, Middle East deputy director at Human Rights Watch. “Those responsible for ordering forces to fire at the crowd with live ammunition should be brought to justice.”

Kurds gathered in the open field area known as Matahen on the outskirts of Raqqa at about 9 a.m. on March 21 to celebrate Nowruz, the Kurdish New Year. The gathering was organized by the PYD (Hezb al-Ittihad al-Dimocrati), an unlicensed party closely affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey.

Kurdish participants told Human Rights Watch that Syrian security forces and police, both in civilian clothes and military uniforms, were present in large numbers and asked the Kurds to remove Kurdish flags and pictures of Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the PKK, who is detained in Turkey. The Kurds were told they would only be allowed to raise the Syrian flag and images of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad.

When participants refused to comply, a fire truck sprayed the stage and the crowds with water in an effort to disperse them. People in the crowd started throwing stones toward the security forces who, said a participant who described the scene, started shooting in the air and shortly thereafter at the crowd. Syrian authorities have not issued an official statement on the incident.

According to Kurdish human rights groups, at least two people died; but the only confirmed death is of Muhammad Omar Haydar, a Kurdish youth. The shooting also wounded a number of participants, but their number and identities are not clear because the security forces have denied access to them in hospitals. According to unconfirmed reports by Kurdish sources, at least two, Muhammad Khalil and Muhammad Othman, both currently in a hospital in Aleppo, were critically wounded.

This is not the first time that Syrian forces have used lethal force to break up a Kurdish celebration. In March 2008, Syrian internal security forces opened fire on Kurds celebrating Nowruz in the town of Qamishli in northeastern Syria, killing three people and wounding five others. The authorities did not investigate that shooting incident.

“The only way to prevent repeated use of unnecessary force in policing demonstrations is to put an end to the prevalent impunity of security forces,” Stork said.

In policing demonstrations, security forces should abide by the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, Human Rights Watch said. These international standards call on law enforcement officials to apply nonviolent means before resorting to the use of force, and then only use force in proportion to the seriousness of the offense. Security forces should use lethal force only when strictly necessary to protect lives.

Two participants in this year’s Nowruz celebration told Human Rights Watch that while some youths threw stones at security forces, none of the youths were armed and no security officer was in mortal danger. Two cars belonging to the security forces and a fire truck were damaged, one participant said. Available photos from the aftermath of the demonstration show an abandoned red fire truck.

Immediately following the gathering and altercations, security forces arrested dozens of demonstrators and, Kurdish human rights activists said, the arrests continued on the following days. On March 23, 23 of those arrested, including 4 minors, were brought before the judiciary, on accusations of inciting sectarian strife, beating a public employee, and inciting rioting.

One of the minors was released while the others, Adnan Buzan Sulayman, Khalil Muhammad Ali, and Muhammad Asmar Abdo, remain detained in the Raqqa prison. Four of the 19 adults remain in detention. Human Rights Watch urged the Syrian authorities to reveal the names and whereabouts of the other detained Kurds.

Boy killed and dozens of injured detained after Kurds clash with security forces in Syria

26 March 2010

Amnesty International has urged the Syrian authorities to investigate the killing of a 14-year-old boy and the wounding of dozens of other people, after security officials opened fire on a Kurdish New Year celebration on 21 March.

The organization has received reports that many of those injured in clashes with law enforcement officials, are being held under tight security in hospital and are being denied access to their relatives.

The incident happened in the north-eastern city of Ar Raqqah on Sunday, as an estimated 5,000 Syrian Kurds gathered to celebrate Nawrouz, the Kurdish New Year.

The gathering was organized by the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Kurdish minority political party unrecognized by the Syrian authorities.

Violence broke out when law enforcement officials objected to people holding up PYD flags and pictures of ‘Abdullah Öcalan, leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in Turkey (PKK), who is imprisoned in Turkey.

Police used tear gas and pumped water at the crowds then opened fire with live ammunition when some of the demonstrators threw stones at them.

Fourteen-year-old Mohammed Haider Iben ‘Omar, was killed. Syrian-Kurdish human rights organizations claim that he may have died due to excessive use of force.

On Tuesday, Political Security officers delivered his body to his family and supervised the burial. It is reported that the family was not permitted to hold a funeral.

Many of those injured during the clashes were taken to Ar Raqqah National Hospital, which has since been surrounded and placed under guard by the security forces.

To date, only two of the injured have been permitted to receive visits from their families, prompting concern that the rest may be at risk of torture or other ill-treatment.

The Syrian authorities have not commented on the events in Ar Raqqah and no investigation is known to have been opened into allegations that law enforcement officials used excessive force.

Amnesty International urged the Syrian authorities to conduct an immediate independent investigation into the use of lethal force by law enforcement officials and whether this constituted excessive use of force in breach of recognized international standards.

The organization said that any officials responsible for using excessive force should be held to account.

It also urged the authorities to allow all those injured or detained in connection with the 21 March events to have immediate access to their families, to legal counsel of their choice and to any medical care that they require.

The Kurds comprise up to 10 per cent of the population of Syria and live mostly around the city of Aleppo in the north of the country and the al-Jazeera region in the north-east.

These predominantly Kurdish areas lag behind the rest of the country in terms of social and economic development. Syrian Kurds are subject to identity-based discrimination, including restrictions on the use of their language in schools and the expression of their culture, such as bans on producing and circulating Kurdish music.

Nawrouz is one of the main events celebrated by members of the Kurdish minority in Syria, and Kurdish political parties usually hold public gatherings to deliver speeches and sing songs in the Kurdish language.