Monday, January 22, 2018

U.N. says Syria execution video shows apparent war crime

GENEVA — The United Nations said Friday that a new video from Syria circulating on the Internet that appears to show antigovernment fighters kicking and summarily executing a group of frightened soldiers or militiamen could, if verified, represent evidence of a war crime to prosecute the perpetrators.

The video, which first appeared Thursday, generated widespread attention internationally and provoked debate among insurgents and their sympathizers inside Syria. The video also illustrated what rights activists called a distressing trend of atrocities committed by both sides in the 20-month-old conflict.

"It looks very likely that this is a war crime, another one," Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, told journalists in Geneva, where the commission has its headquarters.

U.N. investigators had already collected evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity by government and rebel forces that could support prosecutions of those responsible by national or international tribunals, Colville said. The new video, assuming its authenticity were proved, could be part of that evidence, he added.

Thousands of videos depicting violence and combat in Syria have been posted on the Internet since the conflict began, mostly by antigovernment activists aiming to vilify the behavior of the Syrian military and pro-government militia known as the shabiha. Many videos cannot be independently corroborated, and experts are cautious about drawing conclusions from footage that could have been digitally fabricated or altered.

But the videos are often one of the few ways to obtain information and assess the course of the conflict in a country where outside media coverage is severely restricted and dangerous.

The video purporting to show the extrajudicial killings of loyalist soldiers appeared to have been made at the Hamcho military checkpoint in Saraqeb, a town in Idlib province in northern Syria that has been the scene of particularly brutal fighting.

In the video, captors force 10 prisoners, some pleading for their lives, to lie next to or atop one another. The antigovernment fighters, whose precise identities or affiliations were not clear, yell "Allah Akhbar!" or "God is great!." A few even parade before the camera as others kick and herd the prisoners into a pile before shooting them from multiple directions.

In fighting on Friday, at least 143 people, including 48 soldiers, were killed, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group.

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