Washington, Mar. 16 - Amid growing human rights abuses and a staggering death toll, Syrian protesters are marking one year of their revolt against the regime of President Bashar Assad.
The UN estimates that over 8,000 civilians have been killed in the year since the “Day of Rage” protests on March 15 last year brought thousands to the streets for the first time in cities across Syria. Many countries have called for Assad to leave but the United Nations Security Council has been unable to pass a resolution on the issue.
The regime has continued to attack major population centers in recent days as the international community searches for a way to end the bloodshed. Assad’s forces on Wednesday retook the northern city of Idlib from armed rebels- while the military launched its largest assault in months on the city of Daraa, where the first major protests erupted a year ago.
Russia and China in early February vetoed a UN Security Council Resolution that would have endorsed an Arab League plan to end the bloodshed, a move U.S. Secretary of State Clinton at the time called “a travesty.” In recent days, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has been in contact with senior regime officials in a bid to stop the violence and said Thursday that “the door of dialogue is still open.”
Meanwhile, a new Amnesty international report issued this week documented extensive and horrific torture by the regime of many of the thousands of people it has detained. One survivor said he was forced to watch the rape of another detainee, while another victim, “Karim,” reported seeing a man being “crucified” by his torturers.
“They used to take eight or nine of us to interrogation, where around 25 to 30 people would be beating us… During one session I saw the death of a crucified man because they slashed his body with a blade. One of the slashes was deep and near his heart causing his death.”
One victim, “Emad,” said he was mocked for demonstrating while detained in July 2011.
“The Military Police stripped me naked, placed me on a bed and tortured me while asking, ‘You want freedom?’”
Such reports have prompted world leaders to call for Assad to be indicted by the International Criminal Court. Both the United Nations and the Arab League have said that Assad should be investigated for “crimes against humanity,” while French President Nicholas Sarkozy said Wednesday the strongman should be subject to international prosecution.
Assad "is today behaving like a murderer and will have to answer for himself at the International Criminal Court,'' Sarkozy said.
Also on Wednesday, leaked emails from the accounts of Assad and his wife Asma have a cast a new light on Assad’s decision-making. Some of the correspondence shows the extensive advice given by Iran and its proxies to the embattled regime.
In one instance, Assad’s media consultant, in preparing the President for a speech in December, said that his advice came from “consultations with a good number of people in addition to the media and political adviser for the Iranian ambassador."
A top commander in Iran’s paramilitary Quds Force reportedly joined Assad’s military staff in early February and is aiding in the crackdown.