Defectors: Torture of children, rape by Syrian army 'routine'

 

McClatchy Newspapers

DOMZIN, Iraq — In addition to shooting unarmed civilians, Syrian military personnel routinely have raped women and girls, tortured children and encouraged troops to loot the houses they storm, former foot soldiers say.

"What I have seen with my own eyes, it was indescribable," said Rolat Azad, 21, who said he'd served as a master sergeant in Idlib province in the northeast of Syria. There, he commanded 10 men who'd break into houses seeking to arrest men whose names they'd been given by the country's intelligence agencies. "They gave us orders: 'You are free to do what you like,' " he recalled.

Starting last July, he said, his unit arrested and tortured five to 10 people daily. "We had a torture room on our base," he said. "There was physical torture — beatings — and psychological tortures," said Azad, a Syrian Kurd who deserted and fled in March to the Kurdistan region of Iraq. "They also brought women and girls through. They put them in the closed room and called soldiers to rape them."

The women often were killed, he said.

Azad — as with other former soldiers here, the name is a pseudonym assumed to protect his family, still in Syria — was interviewed at a camp that Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government set up for Syrian army deserters. He recalled the torture of two young teenage boys. He said they'd been arrested either for shooting videos of the military or showing disrespect for the military and the regime, something that wasn't uncommon, even among children. "I once asked a small kid why he wasn't going to school," Azad said. "He said, 'We won't until this regime is gone.' "

One boy, about 13, was brought into the torture room and given electrical shocks, Azad said. Another, 14, was brought into the room in late February. His screams could be heard in the camp outside the town of Jisr al Shughour. "It was painful for all the soldiers," he said. Azad said he had no idea of the boy's fate. "They held him one or two days. Either they killed him or sent him to military security," he said.

Even worse, he said, was hearing the wailing and screaming of old men being tortured: "When they tortured old men, I couldn't stand it. I went outside. Others closed their eyes. I could not stay."

An independent U.N. commission of inquiry has described the Syrian government's offensive against civilians as possible "crimes against humanity." The commission, which reports to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, detailed arbitrary arrests, disappearances and torture, including the torture of children, in its latest report, issued in February, but it didn't detail the practice of rape. Commission officials said they had yet to talk with a rape victim.

Former soldiers described the anguish in attacking civilians and their homes. "It was a horrible thing," said Rodi, a former soldier who said he'd been based in Homs. "At the beginning, people in Homs were just going out and asking for their freedom and a change of government. The government started the shooting. After they killed a lot of people, people stood and continued protesting. We started shelling them."

He was assigned to a military construction unit but was ordered to the scenes of demonstrations, where troops would shoot at civilians.

"It was an ugly scene. We were at the top of a building and would shoot at civilians: children, women, men, anyone against the regime." He said the Syrian intelligence agencies stationed personnel to make sure they shot civilians. "They were watching anyone not shooting and taking down names," he said.

Several soldiers said Kurdish and Sunni Muslim troops tried wherever possible to fire over people's heads, but Alawites — members of the sect related to Shiite Islam that President Bashar Assad belongs to — boasted about how many demonstrators they'd killed.

"We had an order to shoot and kill," said Khaled Derecki, 20. "But some of those demonstrating were my friends, and we fired over their heads. "But the Alawites in my unit were very proud. They'd say: 'Today, we killed seven or eight.' "

Another soldier, who used the name Gula Rozava, said his commander had ordered his unit to shoot anyone who was demonstrating against the regime. "Maybe half of them were scared, and that's why they shot," he said.

The former soldiers were among more than a dozen whom McClatchy interviewed March 22-26 in three locations around Iraqi Kurdistan. All said they hadn't shot anyone directly.

ON THE WEB

Report of the fact-finding mission on Syria (September 2011)

First report of the independent international commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab republic (November 2011)

Second report of the independent international commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (February)

MORE FROM MCCLATCHY

One face of the Syrian revolt: a jihadi comes home

A new generation of Syrians adapt to life in exile

Experts: Sanctions squeeze Syrians, but are unlikely to change Assad's behavior

Follow McClatchy on Twitter.

McClatchy Newspapers 2012

Read more World Wires stories from the Miami Herald

  • Trial: dengue shot offers some protection

    The most advanced vaccine for dengue only offers modest protection but could still help millions of people avoid the devastating effects of the disease known as "breakbone fever," according to a large trial.

  •  
This image made from video posted on a pro-militant social media account on Wednesday, June 25, 2014, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, shows smoke rising in the skyline during fighting between al-Qaida inspired militants and Iraqi security forces at the Beiji oli refinery in northern Iraq.

    Iraqi government official concedes troops at refinery are cut off, but disputes how many

    An official from Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s office confirmed Thursday that a high-stakes standoff is unfolding at the country’s largest oil refinery, but he disputed details of a McClatchy report that said only 75 commandos were holed up inside and that the government wasn’t sending food or reinforcements.

  •  
Smoke rises following an Israeli strike on Gaza, seen from the Israel-Gaza Border, Thursday, July 10, 2014.

    Critics blast Israel for strikes on Gaza houses that claim civilian lives

    The civilian death toll in the Gaza Strip continued to climb Thursday as Israel pressed its aerial campaign there against Islamist militants, targeting the homes of suspected operatives in intensifying bombardments across the coastal territory.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category