“What is new in this report is the level of detail that the defectors have provided in terms of the structure of the security forces, how they operated and perhaps most importantly who were the commanders that gave the order to open fire on protesters to arrest thousands of people – and to subject them to torture,” says HRW’s Ole Solvang.
The officers allegedly “ordered, authorised, or condoned widespread killings, torture, and unlawful arrests", the rights group said in a statement.
The soldiers obeyed orders to shoot to kill for fear of reprisals by Bashar al-Assad’s regime, Solvang says.
About half the deserters interviewed said they were given direct orders to fire on demonstrators and bystanders.
Assad blames armed rebels for the violence in his country.
HRW says that it has documented cases of anti-regime forces attacking government soldiers but that most of the protests mentioned were peaceful.
It has called on the UN Security Council to refer the case to the International Criminal Court.
Syrian army deserters have killed at least 27 soldiers and members of the security forces during clashes in the southern province of Daraa on Thursday, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights.
Iraq is to send a delegation to Damascus to try to urge the implementation of an Iraqi peace initiative that proposes opening dialogue between the Syrian government and the opposition.
"America and Europe are afraid of the phase after Bashar al-Assad. That is why they understand the initiative," said Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, announcing the plan.