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Can Newest Peace Plan For Syria Succeed?


I'm Maria Hinojosa and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away. Coming up, the band, Brownout, is trying to bring Tejano Latin funk to the U.S. mainstream. We'll sit down with them and hear some music. That's just ahead.

But first, we want to take another look at the ongoing violence in Syria. U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan was back in Syria today for another round of peace talks. He says the discussions were, quote, "constructive," but earlier, he admitted to the French newspaper, La Monde, that U.N. efforts to end the violence haven't succeeded and might never succeed, and the U.N. says at least 10,000 people have been killed since fighting started last year.

This weekend, attacks were reported in both the Homs and Dara provinces. To get a sense of what it's like on the ground, we've called on Donatella Rovera. She's Amnesty International's senior investigator on crisis response. Donatella has visited Syria multiple times in the last few months. She joins us by phone from London.

Donatella, thanks for being here.


HINOJOSA: So, Kofi Annan is now saying that after his visit he thinks there is a real framework in place to move forward, but we've heard this before, so how confident are you that this time things will be different?

ROVERA: Well, I mean, you know, the U.N. officials have been really singing different tunes. We can really only go by developments on the ground. I mean, you know, we shouldn't forget that at the beginning of this mission, you know, the word from the head of the U.N. monitoring team was also that things were improving.

Well, I mean, you know, recently, they acknowledged that that has not been the case. In fact, the violence has increased tremendously since the beginning of the U.N. mission, not as a result of it, but simply the U.N. mission had a mandate to observe a cease-fire, but there hasn't been a cease-fire and it certainly doesn't look likely that there will be a cease-fire in the near future.

So what would be necessary would be for the U.N. mission to have its mandate enlarged to include provisions for monitoring and investigating the conduct of both sides.

HINOJOSA: Donatella, you have been on the ground, frankly, in a very dangerous kind of situation because Amnesty International was not given permission to go in. So, from the villages - the 23 villages that you visited - give us a sense of what this violence looks like on the ground.

ROVERA: All the places I visited, except for the one place, which is the city of Aleppo, where there was no conflict when I was there, everywhere else has seen major military operation, major and very brutal military operation. So, I spoke to a lot of families whose loved one had been pulled from their homes and summarily executed in front of them. In some cases, their bodies were burned. Many, many, many houses - in the hundreds in several villages - were deliberately burned down to the ground. Several families had no news of their relatives who had been taken away, detained, and the people who had been lucky enough to be released I was able to speak to had very obvious torture marks and open wounds from the torture they had suffered in detention and, in all of these places, the army was never too far away. So the risk of another round of such brutal incursions was all too real.

HINOJOSA: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Maria Hinojosa. We're talking about the ongoing violence in Syria with Donatella Rovera of Amnesty International.

Donatella, we've heard reports of torture centers run by Syrian intelligence agencies. Have you seen evidence of the - I mean, you say that you saw evidence on their bodies, but evidence of these torture centers?

ROVERA: Yes. I mean, this is also not something new. Basically, the Syrian security forces - all of them, the military intelligence, the air force intelligence, the state security - all of the intelligence agencies that form part of Syria's security forces have been known to be torturing detainees for many years, long before the uprising began.

Now obviously, since last year with the event of the uprising, that practice has been very much expanded and reinforced, so virtually every single detention center under the control of the Syrian intelligence agencies, you know, is a torture center. People are being tortured while they are detaining incommunicado in all of these detention centers, absolutely.

HINOJOSA: So, the truth is that getting human rights investigators inside is very, very difficult. What is it that you think the Syrian people want to rest of the world to know, Donatella?

ROVERA: Well, certainly, everybody I spoke to, people were scared, but people were also desperately wanting to speak and they wanted the world to know what was happening to them. People were very frustrated. They felt abandoned and deserted by the international community. So certainly, you know, one sentence that everybody was coming up with was, you know, why isn't the world doing anything? Why is the world just watching while we're being literally slaughtered?

HINOJOSA: And, Donatella, let me just insert here. What should the world, what could the world be doing at this point?

ROVERA: Well, obviously, it's regrettable that the world looked the other way and did nothing last year when the situation was infinitely less complex and therefore, you know, much more realistically possible to sort this out.

Now, things have moved on to a new level. There is open-armed conflict in the vast majority of the country. At the very least, we should see the U.N. mission being expanded and being given a mandate to investigate those abuses that are happening on a daily basis, rather than having a mandate to monitor a cease-fire, which is inexistent and isn't likely to come about any time soon.

And, secondly, the world powers should refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. That would send a strong message to the leadership that the time for impunity is over and may contribute to curbing some of the worst excesses.

HINOJOSA: Donatella Rovera is Amnesty International's senior investigator on crisis response. She's visited Syria multiple times in the last few months and she joined us on the phone from London.

Donatella, thanks again for speaking with us.

ROVERA: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.