Syria rebel fighters vow to shun torture, abuse

Rebel Free Syrian Army fighters march a captured policeman who they believe is a pro-regime militiaman on July 31, 2012.

Story highlights

  • LCC, FSA and human rights experts had been working for months on a code
  • The effort was accelerated after last week's reports of executions
  • Nearly 30 commanders and battalions signed the pledge
  • The fighters vow to shun looting, sectarian violence, torture and public executions

The rebel battalions and commanders battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime are signing a "code of conduct" pledging to refrain from torture and other human rights abuses, an opposition group said Wednesday.

More than two dozen Free Syrian Army officials have signed the documents, just days after an uproar over reports that a unit called the Tawheed brigade claimed responsibility for executing pro-regime members of the Berri clan in Aleppo, the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said.

Rafif Jouejati, the LCC English-language spokeswoman, said some of the content in the code had been in development for months by human rights experts and the LCC and FSA. But the work was accelerated in the wake of the executions last week, she said.

The al-Assad regime has been widely condemned for torture and other human rights abuses. But as the rebel army has evolved, reports have surfaced of mistreatment by rebel fighters as well, including CNN's own reporting on a rebel-run prison last week. The reported executions last week highlighted fears that rebels are intent on revenge killings and sectarian retribution.

"As the ranks of the Free Syrian Army expand and its brave fighters fight a national, multi-front battle, there has become a need for rules to govern their work. These rules must combine the spirit of the national duty they carry out today in facing the aggressor, Bashar Al-Assad and his regime, and moving towards the regime's ouster and the interests of justice and military discipline," the LCC said.

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The code says the rebel army will use weapons "to overthrow the criminal regime that has been imposed upon us," but at the same time, it pledges to "refrain from any behavior or practice that would undermine the principles of our revolution: the principles of freedom, citizenship, and dignity.

"I will respect human rights in accordance with our legal principles, our tolerant religious principles, and the international laws governing human rights -- the very human rights for which we struggle today and which we intend to implement in the future Syria," the code said.

The pledge calls for shunning "any form of torture, rape, mutilation, or degradation," preserving prisoners' rights, rejecting "physical torture or murder of prisoners or informants," and says army members should "not participate in any public execution."

Also, fighters who take the pledge vowed not to issue "any executive orders, particularly with regard to death or corporal punishment" and promised to heed the legal system to determine guilt or innocence of people.

"Any person who takes up arms in the name of the regime, regardless of their rank, should be arrested and remain in the custody of the Free Syrian Army. In the event that an individual is arrested, and it is determined that the individual was working for the regime, voluntarily or for payment, to supply information about revolutionary activists, that individual shall be considered a prisoner and treated in accordance with laws governing prisoners of war," the code said.

The code says people should use their arms only to defend people in the fight. They shouldn't use weapons against activists or civilians, no matter what their opinions are, and not use weaponry against any Syrian citizens. It calls for shunning "theft or looting on the pretext" of "helping to finance the armed struggle" and taking people hostage for ransom.

It also calls "for a pledge not to exercise reprisals on the basis of ethnicity, sect, religion, or any other basis, and to refrain from any abusive practices, in word or in deed, against any component of the Syrian people."

The fighters also have to pledge to surrender their weaponry to a "Transitional Authority, which will manage the country's affairs during the transitional period after the fall of the regime."

People who violate the code also agree to submit to a fair trial "under the supervision of the Free Syrian Army's leadership and monitored by an independent judiciary body."

The LCC said "these ethics and principles represent the essence of our revolution and its moral and national foundation."

There are nearly 30 "initial signatories," including Lt. Col. Muhannad Ahmad Al-Talaa, commander of the Military Council of Deir Ezzor, Col. Qassim Saad Eddin, commander of the Military Council in Homs, and Capt. Ali Shakerdi of the al-Amjad Battalion in Aleppo.