Protesters in Brussels, Belgium, speak out against government violence… (Bruno Fahy / EPA )
Reporting from Beirut — A trio of major human-rights groups on Wednesday sounded separate alarms about the violent crackdown against the pro-democracy movement in Syria, accusing the regime of war crimes and urging the international community to haul the leadership in Damascus before a tribunal.
More than 1,400 Syrians have been killed in the nearly 4-month-old uprising, which seeks to bring democracy to a nation that has been run by the family of President Bashar Assad or its political allies since 1963.
Human Rights First, a Washington-based advocacy group, urged United Nations Security Council members to take action.
"The situation in Syria cannot be allowed to deteriorate further," Neil Hicks of Human Rights First said in a statement. "The U.S. government must lead international efforts to adopt a resolution condemning Syria's actions at the U.N. Security Council. Syria's leaders should be put on notice that they will be held to account for their actions."
At least 16 people were killed Tuesday and Wednesday in Hama, the country's fourth-largest city, during a crackdown that began after large crowds gathered for weekly protests Friday in the city's central square. Residents interviewed by the New York-based group Human Rights Watch said authorities are rounding up all males ages 10 to 45 at impromptu checkpoints or during raids of specific homes.
"The forces would surround a building with a big number of cars, then go inside to arrest their targets," one witness told Human Rights Watch.
Meanwhile, London-based Amnesty International published a 22-page report detailing what it described as murder, torture and other violations that amount to "crimes against humanity" in the northern Syrian city of Talkalakh, "part of a widespread, as well as systematic, attack against the civilian population … in an organized manner and pursuant to a state policy to commit such an attack."
Many of the residents of Talkalakh have fled across the border to Lebanon, where the rights group — barred from Syria even before the current crisis — interviewed more than 50 of them. Some told Amnesty International of being tied up in stress positions for hours. One said prison authorities attached electrical wires to his testicles. Others described being hung for hours by their hands.
Relatives coming to collect the bodies of those reportedly tortured to death said they were told they had to sign documents blaming the killings on "armed gangs" before they could take home the remains of their loves ones.
"We started to demonstrate to demand the release of our men who were imprisoned," one refugee, Aisha, who declined to give her last name for fear of later retribution, told The Times. "Plainclothes security forces starting shooting at us."
Others described security forces breaking into homes and making off with cars and other personal property. One middle-aged man from the city said in an interview last week that security forces arrested dozens of children for allegedly ripping up the portraits of Assad that are ubiquitous throughout the nation. Gunmen shot his aunt while she was 15 feet from the border, said the man, who requested anonymity for safety's sake. "Fortunately she made it to the other side," where she was treated for her injuries, he said.
"I don't know where the rest of my family is," said an elderly man. "I don't know where my children are. We lost one another as we tried to escape. Either you leave or you die."
Special correspondents Alexandra Sandels and Roula Hajjar in Wadi Khaled, Lebanon, contributed to this report.