UN Bodies Have Never Made Any Reference to the 1982 Hama Massacre, Although Killings and Enforced Disappearances Constitute Crimes against Humanity
Press release (Link below to download full report):
Paris – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) notes in its report released today that the 40th anniversary of the 1982 Hama massacre coincides with Rifaat al Assad’s return to Bashar al Assad in Syria, adding that no UN bodies have ever made any reference to the massacre, although killings and enforced disappearances perpetrated constitute crimes against humanity.
The 30-page report notes that February carries painful memories for the Syrian people, with February 2022 marking the forty-year anniversary of another horrific massacre by the Syrian regime, then led by Hafez al Assad, in Hama city in 1982, with that massacre continuing throughout the month. Syria is still ruled by the same family that committed that unspeakably horrific massacre. Moreover, forty years of impunity have culminated in the return to Syria of Rifaat al Assad, the most prominent of the surviving regime officials involved in leading and committing crimes against humanity in Hama city in 1982. The report stresses that commemorating the massive atrocities and massacres that preceded the outbreak of the popular uprising in March 2011, whose impact continues to resonate to the current date, is a vital aspect of uncovering the truth, defending victims’ rights, and exposing the perpetrators of violations. The report adds that all the statistics contained in this report are, out of necessity, informed estimates rather than concrete data on all the victims, although these are based to a great degree on the available data. The report further notes that SNHR has collected data confirming that at least 3,762 persons from Hama city were forcibly disappeared during the massacre, as well as data on the nearly 7,984 civilians confirmed killed. Meanwhile, informed estimates indicate that, in reality, between 30,000 and 40,000 civilians were killed in this massacre, in addition to some 17,000 others being classified as missing persons. The report adds that factors such as the length of time that’s passed since the massacre, the shameful lack of regional and global media coverage of it, the lack of any independent local media to cover the events, let alone any independent national judiciary, due to the Syrian regime’s dominance over the state’s three powers, have all made documentation of this massacre a complex process.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, Director of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, says:
“The anniversary of the February 1982 Hama massacre, in which the Syrian regime killed tens of thousands of the city’s people and disappeared tens of thousands more, coincides with the return of Rifaat al Assad to Bashar al Assad in Syria; Rifaat al Assad is now the main suspect in the massacre following the death of Hafez al Assad, who headed the army and armed forces at the time. This is a genuine and damning embodiment of the culture of total impunity, and it is shameful that there is not even one UN document documenting the massacre and demanding that the fate of tens of thousands of victims be revealed and the perpetrators held accountable. The United Nations has a duty to correct its historical mistake.”
The report discusses Hafez al Assad’s absolute power over the constitution, the media, parties, and political life which paved the way for the Hama massacre and for the lack of any public reaction from Syrian society or the opposition. The report summarizes the details since al Ba’ath Party seized power in Syria in a bloody military coup in March 1963, overthrowing the former President Nazim al Qudsi and his democratically elected government, and the subsequent events including declaring a state of emergency, leading to Hafez al Assad’s seizure of power in 1970, and then promulgating the 1973 constitution, which the report described as opposing the most basic principles of human rights. As the report further explains, Hafez al Assad’s absolute domination over the Syrian state was based on the state of emergency, a network of irregular courts, and the regime’s total control over the three powers, as well as over the security forces, the army, and trade unions, and the outlawing of free media, all of which paved the way for the Tadmur prison massacre in 1980, and then the Hama in 1982. The regime’s repression meant there were barely any domestic condemnations or repercussions. Less understandably, there was virtually no international reaction, with this lack of any reaction more especially noteworthy and shameful given the vast size of the disaster that occurred.
The report provides details of the most notable violations committed by Syrian regime forces in Hama city in February 1982, some of which constitute crimes against humanity, and lists the most prominent forces accused of carrying out the massacre. The report notes that the Syrian regime mobilized forces from the army and security services and imposed a form of a siege on Hama city at the end of January 1982. The report outlines the details of the attack, which lasted about a month, and reveals in some detail the most prominent and bloody days which the massacre witnessed, which were mark points. As the report reveals, Syrian regime forces, led by Rifaat al Assad, numbering nearly 20,000 military personnel, began bombing Hama city at around 20:15 on the evening of Tuesday, February 2, 1982. The authorities’ pretext for this massive mobilization and the vast numbers of troops deployed was the claim that they were there to eliminate a few hundred gunmen affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, some of whom had entered into an armed conflict with the authorities, with a few dozen of them hiding among civilians from Hama city. Using this as an excuse, Syrian regime forces began with massive and indiscriminate preliminary bombardment of many neighborhoods using cannons and machine guns; after this, large numbers of troops stormed the city from several axes, and carried out field executions and random killings, as well as dozens of other violations involving looting and sexual violence. Armed clashes took place between Syrian regime forces and members of the Muslim Brotherhood in the city. The report reveals that the Syrian regime’s Air Force and tanks participated in the bombing of houses without distinguishing between civilians and combatants. The report confirms that regime forces arrested hundreds of residents of the city, without presenting any charges, against them, summarily executing some of them by firing squad in the streets.
The shelling and clashes continued non-stop until Friday, February 5, when Syrian regime forces began their incursions into the neighborhoods, with regime tanks completing the destruction begun by the shelling over the previous days, killing dozens of civilians inside their homes. The regime forces carried out deliberate killings of wounded people, targeting entire families, including women, children, and young people, simply because some of their other family members belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood, in addition to looting the contents of houses, then burning them, as well as scrawling hateful graffiti slogans with strong undertones of sectarian cleansing repeatedly on the walls of buildings in the city. As the report adds, this brutal violence by the authorities, and the introduction of this sectarian dimension, prompted the Muslim Brotherhood to appeal to residents through loudspeakers to join in the fight against the Syrian regime in a religious context, with some of the young people of the city who had not been members of the Muslim Brotherhood joining the gunmen to defend their homes and families.
The report further reveals that on February 6, more Syrian regime forces were flown into the city by helicopters, with these new arrivals accompanied by vile, sadistic acts. For the next two days, shelling, incursions, and clashes continued in various neighborhoods of the city until Monday, February 8, the day when Syrian regime forces took control of the market area south of al Assi River. The next day, regime forces began storming neighborhoods, detaining entire families, then shooting them dead. Clashes continued in a number of neighborhoods until February 23, with Syrian regime forces pursuing a scorched earth policy of mass destruction, which almost none of the residents of those neighborhoods survived. Regime forces continued with their persecution and identity-based killings until Sunday, February 28, when some forces around the city began to return to their military barracks; many military checkpoints remained inside the city, however, with individual killings and liquidations continuing until mid-March 1982.
As the report reveals, this military campaign against Hama city resulted in the deaths of 40,000 civilians, with nearly 17,000 people remaining missing up to the current day. SNHR does not know the number of deaths among the gunmen of the Muslim Brotherhood and Syrian regime forces. In addition, nearly 79 mosques, three churches, and many of the city’s neighborhoods including archaeological and historical areas were destroyed. The report provides a map showing the location of the most notable neighborhoods that were completely or partially destroyed. The report adds that Hama city remained under siege throughout February, with a widespread curfew imposed on its residents.
The report notes that under international law, states are responsible for violations committed by members of their armed forces, or by persons or entities authorized by the states, and must open investigations and commit to paying full compensation to survivors and victims’ families for harm and loss. The report holds the Syrian regime responsible for this attack, noting that the regime‘s very centralized nature means that undertakings involving huge military operations could not and cannot be carried out without the knowledge and approval of the regime’s head, at that time Hafez al Assad, who was also the Commander-in-Chief of Syria’s Army and the Armed Forces. In addition, the Hama massacre spanned nearly a whole month, meaning that it is impossible for the leaders of the army and security services not to have heard of it. Not only did the Syrian regime fail to prevent violations or punish those commissioning them, but all the evidence and testimonies clearly show that the regime was wholly responsible for them and for issuing the orders to commit killings, liquidations, arrests, enforced disappearances, and torture. In this context, the report provides a list of the most notable regime figures involved in killings, enforced disappearances, looting, and destruction in February and March of 1982 in Hama city.
Finally, the report emphasizes that the United Nations’ shameful indifference to the massacre is an insult to the victims, helping to extend its traumatic impact. The report calls on the UN Secretary-General to issue a statement on the Hama massacre and apologize to its victims, adding that it is unacceptable and incomprehensible to find that a humanitarian disaster on the staggering scale of the 1982 Hama massacre is not even documented in the United Nations’ records. The report sheds light on the failures of the UN Economic and Social Council and the Human Rights Commission at that time towards the victims of this catastrophe, stressing that what they failed to do at that time has still not been remedied, despite the founding of the Human Rights Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to this day. The report clarifies that the people of Hama city have suffered doubly, as well as being betrayed thrice over, firstly through the unspeakable atrocities committed by the Syrian regime led by Hafez al Assad; secondly by the failure of the international community and the Security Council to condemn this heinous massacre, an omission echoed by the near-total lack of any political reaction by the first world’s democratic states; and thirdly by the absence of any reaction from the UN, human rights bodies or regional and global media, at the time or since. Moreover, the report adds that most of what has been written or broadcast about this terrible massacre has once again betrayed the victims and ignored their suffering in favor of repeating the Syrian regime’s false narrative of the event and its blatant self-justifying lies while disregarding the regime’s victims and turning a deaf ear to the accounts of hundreds of survivors and victims’ relatives.
The SNHR believes that the violations committed by the Syrian regime in Hama city over a full month were committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population, and therefore constitute crimes against humanity under customary international law and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Syrian regime forces violated many provisions and principles of international human rights law, including extrajudicial killing, by directing orders to the security services to kill and injure as many residents of Hama city as possible. The report also stresses that Syrian authorities have not conducted any serious investigations into these attacks.
As the report further notes, the Muslim Brotherhood gunmen in Hama also bear responsibility for the violations they committed, in particular taking shelter in civilian neighborhoods, which posed a danger to these neighborhoods and their residents. This culpability, however, in no way absolves the attacking party, the Syrian regime, of its responsibility to distinguish between civilians and combatants and to use force in a proportional manner, rather than in the manner that occurred.
The report recommends that the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the High Commissioner for Human Rights should remember and commemorate the 1982 Hama massacre, as a bloody event that constituted a milestone in impunity, especially after the return of the main perpetrator, Rifaat al Assad to Bashar al Assad in Syria. The report calls on the United Nations to apologize to the victims and their families for its abject failure in not documenting the massacre or condemning its perpetrators and to correct this shameful omission by calling on the Syrian authorities to work to reveal the fate of nearly 17,000 Syrian citizens from Hama city who have been forcibly disappeared since 1982.
The report also calls on the international community and the UN Security Council to acknowledge their abject failure to protect civilians in Hama, to try to correct this historical mistake by working to hold the Syrian regime accountable, and to seek to reveal the fate of the missing.
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