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Syria’s Alleged Human Rights Violations Push World Leaders to Tighten Sanctions

December 15, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
The U.S., European Union, Arab League and Turkey have tightened sanctions on Syria for the violent crackdown that has the country's death toll rising rapidly. Margaret Warner reports.

JUDY WOODRUFF: More violence and a rapidly rising death toll in Syria.

Margaret Warner has that story.

MARGARET WARNER: Defiant Syrians shown in this Internet video gathered today in what were said to be the streets of Dara’a in the south. Their chants of “God is great” were met with gunfire and more casualties.

Syrian army tanks patrolled the streets of the restive city today, where the nine-month-old uprising began. But not far from Dara’a, near the town of Busra al-Harir, army defectors from a group called the Free Syrian Army reportedly ambushed some former comrades. The reports said 27 Syrian army soldiers were killed in a rocket attack on a bus and the subsequent firefight.

It was the latest sign that the state no longer has a monopoly on the violence, as parts of the opposition are increasingly armed and fighting back. But, earlier this week, the United Nations’ top human rights official, Navi Pillay, said an estimated 5,000 people have been killed by the government in the crackdown.

She repeated her call for the regime of President Bashar al-Assad to be referred to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. That same judgment, that the Syrian regime is responsible for most of the deaths, came in a Human Rights Watch report issued today. It named Syrian commanders who allegedly ordered troops to shoot demonstrators.

This man defected from the army.

MAN (through translator): They just said, let us go for hunting. When the protesters go to streets, they go to roof of the building, a high building, and they use AK-47 to shoot on the protesters on the street.

MARGARET WARNER: Joe Stork is deputy director of the group’s Middle East Division.

JOE STORK, Human Rights Watch: We’re identifying here the names of some 74 individual Syrian commanders who are, in one way or another, responsible for the killings, for the torture, for the arbitrary arrests, for the suppression of these pro-democracy protests sort of without any regard for human life, for basic international human rights.

FREDERIC HOF, U.S. State Department: I do not see this regime surviving.

MARGARET WARNER: And the U.S. government is increasingly blunt in its assessment of the Assad government’s fate. A top State Department official, Frederic Hof, appeared at a House hearing yesterday.

FREDERIC HOF: Our view is that this regime is the equivalent of dead man walking. But the real question is how many steps remain. I think it is very, very, very difficult to predict or project how much time this regime has.

MARGARET WARNER: For now, the U.S., European Union, Arab League and Turkey have tightened sanctions on Syria. Action by the U.N. Security Council, however, has been stymied by opposition from Russia and China.