NEW: "Syria has shown it will stop at nothing to undermine independent monitoring," HRW says
Demonstrations erupt in Hama on news of Arab League observers' arrival
Thousands gathered in Homs to protest the regime of Bashar al-Assad
An Arab League official says observers will have free access
Syrian authorities have moved perhaps hundreds of detainees to military sites to hide them from Arab League monitors assessing whether the government is upholding a commitment to end its crackdown on protesters, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday.
“Syria has shown it will stop at nothing to undermine independent monitoring of its crackdown,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Syria’s subterfuge makes it essential for the Arab League to draw clear lines regarding access to detainees, and be willing to speak out when those lines are crossed.”
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem told The Independent last week that the international monitors could move around the country “under the protection” of the government but would not be permitted to visit sensitive military sites.
HRW said it was told by a Syrian security officer in Homs that his prison director had ordered him to transfer about 400 to 600 detainees from his detention facility to other places.
“The transfers happened in installments,” the official said, according to HRW. “Some detainees were moved in civilian jeeps and some in cargo trucks. My role was inside the prison, gathering the detainees and putting them in the cars. My orders from the prison director were to move the important detainees out,” the official said, according to HRW.
He said that officials told him the detainees were being taken to a military missile factory in Zaidal, outside of Homs.
Other witnesses corroborated his account, HRW said.
The Syrian security officer also said the government has issued police identification cards to military officials, according to the human rights group. HRW said it has a document that appears to be from the Syrian Defense Ministry ordering the transfer of personnel from the Defense Ministry to the Interior Ministry, which oversees the police.
“Dressing soldiers in police uniforms does not meet the Arab League call to withdraw the army,” Whitson said. “The Arab League needs to cut through Syrian government deception by pushing for full access to anywhere Syria is holding detainees.”
Jamal Barakat, a member of the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights, said he is part of the Arab League mission. He said Arab League Secretary-General Nabil el-Araby had “emphasized the importance of neutrality, objectivity and tr