New evidence has emerged that members of President Bashar al-Assad's family and inner circle are directly ordering the commission of crimes against humanity in Syria, Britain's Channel 4 News reported Monday, this after the UN Security Council on Sunday unanimously condemned the government in Damascus for heavy-weapons attacks on the town of Houla.
At least 108 people, including dozens of children, were killed and over 300 were wounded in Friday's massacre. Syria has strongly denied allegations that its forces were involved.
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Foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdesi said: "We firmly deny the responsibility of government forces in this massacre that has occurred. We strongly condemn this terrorist massacre that targeted in a clearly criminal way Syria's people: women, children and old men."
A Channel 4 Dispatches investigation, The Real Mr & Mrs Assad, to be broadcast on Monday, reveals new evidence implicating top commanders, clansmen and henchmen of Assad president himself, making his future prosecution on charges of crimes against humanity a realistic prospect, according to legal experts.
William Schabas, professor of International Criminal Law at Middlesex University, told Channel 4 that while there is no "smoking gun" linking Assad directly to the commission of crimes, he can be held to account using the doctrine of Command Responsibility.
"There is very little evidence of Hitler ordering direct atrocities to be perpetrated. Does anyone have any doubt that Hitler wasn't in charge? I don't think so. And I think that this is a similar case," he said.
"We can hold him responsible, even if we can't prove that he actually ordered the crimes. Whether he is a micro-manager of atrocity, or whether he's a macro-manager, it doesn't actually make much difference."
Defectors from Syrian intelligence and security agencies, used by the regime to crush the 14-month-long revolt, told Dispatches that Assad's cousin, Brigadier-General Atef Najib, issued "shoot-to-kill" orders against civilian protestors in Deraa, in April last year. "Kill quotas" were reportedly issued to snipers tasked with assassinating pro-democracy activists, the defectors told Channel 4.
Channel 4 said it is also alleged that Assad's brother Maher, a senior army commander, was among senior figures operating out of a secret command center in Deraa when orders were issued to contain a protest march by all means necessary. More than 100 civilians were shot dead. Maher is also accused of ordering the indiscriminate mass-punishment of the entire male population of a troublesome town, al-Moudamya, later the same month, according to the Dispatches investigation.
The Channel 4 documentary also will screen footage of Assad and his London-born wife, Asma, relaxing and joking together in 2009.
In it, the president says: "Every mistake (that) happens in this government, you are responsible, not somebody else. Not the minister. Not the prime minister. At the end you should be responsible."
The documentary also examines emails which, according to Channel 4, indicate that the Assads were aware of the arrest of individuals as part of the crackdown on anti-regime activists. In two separate cases, they appear to have personally intervened to secure the release of detainees.
The New York Times reported Sunday that US President Obama will seek to oust President Assad under a proposal modeled on the transition in another strife-torn Arab country, Yemen,
According to the report, the plan calls for a negotiated political settlement that would satisfy Syrian opposition groups but that could leave remnants of Assad’s government in place.
Its goal, NYT reported, "Is the kind of transition under way in Yemen," where after months of violent unrest, President Ali Abdullah Saleh agreed to step down and transfer control to his vice president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, in an agreement arranged by Yemen’s Arab neighbors.