In village after village in the Jabal al-Zawiya region of Syria, northwest of the central city of Hama, the scene was the same: burned-down houses and grieving families who described atrocities by Syrian soldiers — relatives of all ages dragged away and shot, their bodies often set on fire, making them literally part of the military’s “scorched earth” policy.
I spoke to people who are terrified of leaving their homes.
Syrian army positions dot the hills around villages in this region, and the main roads are accessible only through army checkpoints. Even in areas ostensibly under the control of the armed opposition, residents are frightened. They know that the army could repeat the kind of large-scale attack it launched in Homs and Daraa in recent months.
Everyone asks: Why has the world abandoned us?
More than a year after the Syrian uprising started, world leaders have failed to agree on an effective course of action to bring tangible relief and protection to Syrian civilians who continue to be mercilessly targeted by government forces for having dared to call for the removal of Bashar al-Assad and his repressive regime. Hundreds of nonviolent, pro-reform protesters have been fatally shot; thousands have been injured, arrested and tortured.
Amnesty International has counted more than 9,400 people killed in Syria since government forces first shot protesters in March 2011. More than 1,300 people have been killed just since a United Nations observer mission started April 14.
The observer mission, organized as part of the six-point plan of U.N. envoy Kofi Annan, has a major shortcoming: the absence of a mandate to monitor and investigate human rights abuses, including war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Given the Syrian government’s refusal to provide international human rights and humanitarian organizations — including the U.N. inquiry commission set up late last year — with unfettered access to the country, the need for the United Nations to monitor and probe abuses is all the more pressing.
Donatella Rovera is Amnesty International’s senior adviser on crisis response and has reported from numerous conflict zones on human rights violations since 1991. She has traveled inside Syria several times over the past two months.