Amid widening Syria violence, a new war-crimes charge (+video)
Syrian refugees say Assad's soldiers are forcing women and children to march in front of advancing tanks to prevent rebels from opening fire. International law forbids the use of human shields.
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Ole Solvang, the Human Rights Watch researcher who wrote the report, said the use of human shields amounted to "a serious violation of international law." The practice is prohibited under the Geneva Convention.Skip to next paragraph
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"The use of human shields is a war crime and those responsible should be held accountable," Mr. Solvang said.
HRW also issued another report today documenting more than a dozen incidents of summary executions, in which Syrian forces killed at least 101 civilians and wounded or captured rebels.
'I saw them forcing women to walk in front of tanks'
In early March, government forces began pouring into the restive Idlib province, where rebels had found refuge in the mountainous Jabal al-Zawiyeh region, a cluster of small, difficult-to-reach villages southwest of the provincial capital.
Solvang said the regime appeared to begin using human shields here in response to the rebels use of roadside bombs.
As the Syrian government forces advanced into their villages in mid-March, residents said their fellow villagers were forced to march in front of the advancing armor columns.
Two Syrian refugees from the village of Janudieh said that when Syrian tanks entered their village on March 11, the troops smashed up local shops and the village pharmacy. Groups of local villagers, mostly women and children since the men had mostly fled to avoid arrest, marched alongside tanks, they said.
"I saw them forcing women and children to walk in front of the advancing tanks," said one of the two refugees, who was a high school teacher in the village. He declined to give his name out of fear of his safety, like most of the individuals interviewed for this article.
His 21-year-old friend, a private who defected from the Syrian Army who gave his name as Nour, said he, too, witnessed the incident. He spoke from his hospital bed, with a foot-long wound across his abdomen, which he said he suffered later that same day.
Tawfik Kalash, a young lieutenant who defected from the Army, fled Janudieh early in the morning when he heard the government tanks were approaching. On his way out of town, he said he saw a soldier forcing a woman from his village to climb on top of a tank.
"Once they saw there were no rebel fighters around, the troops let the civilian go," he said.
Rebel: 'We had to stop and leave'
Ghassan Alewi, a barber from Silat al-Zuhur in the Jabal el-Zawiyah region, was sheltering in the nearby village of al-Lij when the regime forces moved in in mid-March. Before trying to get back to his house, he saw the soldiers grab some women who were passing by and put them in front of the advancing troops.
"If they are looking for a certain Mohammed, for example, they would take his wife," Mr. Alewi said.
The tough regime tactic appears to have worked. Abu Zhaki, a rebel commander in Jabal el-Zawiyeh, said that in mid-March he was with his men in the village of Ayn Larouz when government forces came. The rebels engaged them, but soon had to stop.
"During the fighting, we saw the soldiers gathering civilians in front of them. We had to stop and leave," he said.
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