2023.01.05 - PRESS RELEASE: Huquqyat’s Investigation into the Events of Ali Al-Wahsh Suggests War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity
05 January 2023 – On the occasion of the 9th anniversary of the events commonly referred to as the “Ali Al-Wahsh massacre”, Huquqyat shares the findings of a three-year legal investigation confirming the occurrence of several crimes, including arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearance, and other inhumane acts against a civilian population at the Ali Al-Wahsh crossing. The crimes were committed by local Shiite militias affiliated with the Syrian regime, with the involvement of Syrian regime factions.
On 5 January 2014, thousands of residents of the besieged South of Damascus walked towards the Ali Al-Wahsh checkpoint, in the hope of leaving the area that had been sealed off since July 2013 without any access to food, medicine, or healthcare. Besieged civilians first walked to an internal checkpoint in Yalda. From there, they walked down Ali Al-Wahsh street towards Sayyeda Zainab, where the checkpoint was located, and where the alleged crimes took place. The opening of the Ali Al-Wahsh crossing was part of a series of negotiations between local groups and regime factions to open humanitarian corridors for local civilians to either leave the siege or for foodstuff to enter the besieged area.
The investigation initiated by Huquqyat members and independent legal investigators Leila Sibai and Mariana Karkoutly in June 2020 revealed that crimes committed that day at the Ali Al-Wahsh crossing may amount to the crimes against humanity of murder, torture, imprisonment and other severe deprivation of physical liberty, enforced disappearance and other inhumane acts, and the war crimes of wilful killing, wilfully causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or health, unlawful confinement, as well as the war crimes of violence to life and person and committing outrages upon personal dignity.
The information collected outlines the following chain of events: At the checkpoint, people were ordered to wait. Men and women were divided, with boys as young as fourteen being ordered to stand with the men. Armed men went through the crowd and collected IDs, phones, and belongings in large bags. The women at the front of the crowd were ordered to enter a nearby mosque in which they were forcibly held. The rest of the women stayed at the central square while more civilians continued to approach the Ali Al-Wahsh checkpoint, joining the rest of the crowd. Some of the men were taken aside and held in a warehouse and other local facilities and subsequently taken away in buses and vans. They were brought to the Sbeneh cable factory and then to the Maysaloon Military School. Others were detained directly at the checkpoint.
Later in the day, armed men belonging to local Shiite militias affiliated with the Syrian regime were seen beating up men arbitrarily.
Only a few men were released from detention, while death certificates were given to some of the families. The whereabouts of the majority of the men who disappeared on 5 January 2014 at the Ali Al-Wahsh checkpoint remain unknown.
This investigation was conducted with the support and mentorship of the Center for Justice and Accountability, under the umbrella of Huquqyat. Huquqyat intends to continue to pursue available information that may lead to legal accountability for those responsible for the crimes committed as part of the events of Ali Al-Wahsh, with the support of their partner the Syrian Archive.
‘Huquqyat’ means ‘women legal practitioners’ in Arabic. It is a membership-based organisation of self-identifying women lawyers and legal practitioners who aim to work towards a women-led transformative justice for Syria. The organisation aims to diversify and strengthen justice mechanisms in the Syrian context through promoting women lawyers and legal practitioners to take active part in and to lead investigations and accountability proceedings and it envisions A transformative justice framework for Syria that is developed and implemented through the equal representation and participation of Syrian women lawyers and legal practitioners.