The UN High Commissioner of Human Rights has issues a detailed report on the use of torture and inhumane methods practised in Syrian Prisons and Centres of detention.
The report described a widespread pattern of torture and ill treatment against individuals practised in government controlled areas. However, the report also documented reports concerning the use of torture by some armed groups. The report is based on interviews conducted by the UN with individuals that spent time detained in Syria during the conflict.
The report also mentioned that men, women and children are routinely detained from the streets, their homes, their places of work, and at government check points. It was also found that a large number of those arrested are activists; in many times they are also students, as well as lawyers, doctors and humanitarians. And then there are some who simply end up in the wrong place at the wrong time.
When delivered to the centre of detention, guards routinely begin to beat those detained and humiliate them for many hours. This routine is known as the “welcome party!” The report contains witnesses concerning torture and ill treatment at the hands of different elements of the security apparatus of the Syrian regime.
The report also described the story of a student in his thirties who was beaten and had his beard ripped out. His feet were also burnt and his nails were pulled out. This happened to him whilst he was in a detention centre of the Air Intelligence in Hama, where he was interrogated daily for more than a month.
Two other victims, a man and a woman, were described as having sexual violence used against them. The woman, 26 years of age, describes that she was interrogated continuously throughout the night, and in those sessions she was beaten with electric cables and her teeth were removed. In one of those sessions, a security intelligence officer took her to a separate room and raped her.
The report also points to the cases of individuals that died in their detention, with clear causal evidence that shows torture to have been the reason in their death.
At times, the families of dead detainees are made to sign papers which claim that their family member was killed by armed opposition groups. The body is also buried immediately and secretly.
The report also mentioned that the reports concerning torture by armed opposition groups seem to have increased since 2013, in particular in Ar-Raqqah (North Syria). This is despite the fact that the recording of allegations against these groups is difficult particularly due to the continuing evolution of alliances and changes in the membership, and powers of structures and areas under its control.
Its seems that most witnesses of the victims in the report point to the fact that the most vulnerable to arrest and torture by armed opposition groups are human rights activists as well as individuals who are thought to be loyal to the regime, or belong to another opposition group.
The descriptions provided by ex-detainees of the conditions of the centres of detention are horrific, with descriptions of over 60 individuals crammed into one cell with one hole in the corner used as a toilet. A sixty year old man, who spent three months in different centres, described how every day his “prisoner friends” would be taken for interrogation lasting 30-45 minutes, returning with bloody faces, unable to walk except with great difficulty, and with open wounds that were not treated until they became contaminated.
The report can be found here.
The UN High commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, confirmed that international law prohibits unequivocally the use of torture in all times and all circumstances. Pillay also added that the commission was able to extract that torture is used in a routinely basis in centres of detention in Syria, and that torture is also used by some armed opposition groups. She also said, “my office is aware of the dangerous claims made that children are being tortured in Syria. In armed conflict, torture is considered a war crime. When it is used in a systematic and widespread manner, which is definitely happening in Syria, it reaches the status of crime against humanity.”
Pillay urged the Syrian regime and armed opposition groups to immediately stop their use of torture and ill treatment, and to release all detainees who were detained in a repressive manner and in a manner which violated the international law.
Pillay also added that it was of utmost importance that those in high positions in the Syrian government should condemn the use of torture and immediately punish those who are behind this matter. She also emphasised the need for victims of torture to have the right to justice, including fair compensation and rehabilitation.
Finally, the UN high commissioner repeated her request to the Syrian regime to allow neutral international observers into the country, including her team, the Committee of Inquiry on Syria, and independent experts of human rights, and to allow them to have access to all areas of detention so that they can monitor the situation in a more effective manner.