The regime expects us to believe what they say, as if it were not this regime that killed 10,000 people over the last year, and that committed ethnic cleansing against thousands of people in Hama in the past.
Most recently, Bashar al-Assad declared in a speech delivered in parliament: “We are not responsible for the massacre. I condemn the massacre. Not even monsters commit such a grave crime. We will keep fighting terror.” He also added his feeling of disappointment that despite reforms, “terror” continues.
The Ba’ath strategy is not limited to denial of events. In order to identify the culprits of the Houla massacre, they set up a judicial inquiry under the supervision of Brigadier-General Qasım Jamal Suleiman. This committee announced its initial report on June 1: “The victims are members of peaceful families who refused to riot against the state. The purpose of the attack is to give the impression that Syria is having a domestic conflict before [Special Envoy Kofi] Annan’s visit and to provoke a foreign intervention. The site investigations and eyewitness accounts show that people were killed by close-range gunshot and sharp objects instead of artillery pounds. In order not to jeopardize the lives of the witnesses (look at the sensitivity of the regime that destroyed Homs a month ago), we do not disclose some of the information they provided.”
If the regime was so confident in its innocence it should have called on the UN and other international institutions to reveal the truth, and offered cordial cooperation with a serious inquiry. In such circumstances the opposition would have panicked and tried to cover up the scandal. However, the 47-member UN Human Rights Council, on the day of the release of the official report, ruled to investigate the Houla massacre upon the motion of Turkey, the US and Qatar. The motion attracted support from 41 countries, while only three countries raised objection. One of the three was Russia, which unfortunately still protects Assad; the others were China and Cuba. If Assad, who holds the opposition responsible for the massacre, had requested a genuine and objective inquiry, would Russia and China have stood against this?
Besides, the chief of the UN observer mission, Major General Robert Mood, has announced, contrary to information contained in the official report, that some of the victims were indeed killed as a result of artillery attacks. His observations are based on a site investigation carried out one day after the massacre in Houla, located 20 kilometers northwest of Homs.
What do independent sources have to say about what happened in Houla? What do the survivors of the massacre tell human rights organizations, independent journalists and observers? Interviews conducted by Human Rights Watch -- which called for referral of the situation to the International Criminal Court -- with eyewitnesses reveal the painful truth of the incident. Eyewitnesses agree that those directing the attacks, who wore military uniforms, were supporters of the regime. The only detail on which eyewitness accounts do not agree is whether the murderers were Syrian troops or members of pro-Assad militias, or shabiha.
One elderly woman from Abdurrezzak who survived the massacre, and numbers her murdered relatives at 62, recounts: “On May 25 at 6.30 p.m. I was home, along with grandsons and granddaughters, brother-in-law and cousin. Before sunset we heard gunshots. I was in my room when I heard the voice of a man. He was cursing my family. I hid behind the door. Shortly after I also saw other men waiting outside. They had military uniforms; I could not see their faces. I thought they wanted to do a house search. They walked into the house. Three minutes later, all the members of the family started to cry. The kids were sobbing. I crawled through there to see what had happened. When I approached the door I heard gunshots. I was so scared that I could not stand on foot. I heard the troops leaving. I looked outside; I saw my entire family was destroyed. I was so afraid that I could not even check whether they were alive. I crawled through the door. And then I left the house. I was in shock; I do not know what happened next.”
A 10-year-old boy from the same family describes how his 13-year-old friend was killed: “I was home with my mother, cousins and aunt. All of a sudden I heard gunshots. My mother took me to the barn to hide me. I was hearing the screams and sobs of the people. I looked through the window. Men in uniforms walked into our house. They left a few minutes later. I saw my friend Shafiq , who was standing alone across the street. A man with a gun grabbed him and took him to the corner of the house. Then he shot him in the head. His mother and sister came out to see what had happened. They were screaming. The same man shot both twice. The gunmen left, and then the troops of the Free Syrian Army arrived.”
Neither Slobodan Milosevic nor Saddam Hussein got away with what was done to their people. Assad, who thinks he can sustain his power by spilling blood in Syria, will eventually be held accountable. If we can do nothing else, we should at least honor the truth by not believing the lies of a regime that perpetuates itself through bloodshed and dishonesty.