The Independent International Committee of Inquiry on Syria has published a specialised report concerning acts of mass killing which detainees of the Syrian regime are subjected to, amounting to “extermination” – as it called it- of the civilian population, which is a crime against humanity.
The inquiry commission, which works for the UN, called on the international Security Council to impose “targeted sanctions” on the prominent Syrian civilian and military leaders that are responsible for the death, torture, and disappearance of detainees. However, the commission did not mention any names.
The report said that the commission had also documented acts of mass executions and torture of detainees by the Nusra Front and ISIS, and that these acts amount to war crimes.
The report, which is called, “Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Deaths of Detainees in the Syrian Arab Republic”, covers the period of 10/3/2011 (a number of days before the uprisings began) to 30/11/2015, and relies on 621 survivors and witnesses whom the commission interviewed.
The president of the commission, Paulo Pinheiro, said that “Never in these five years these facilities that are described in our report have been visited and we have repeatedly asked the government to do so”, indicating that the majority of victims were male civilians.
Pienheiro also said that “Prison officials, their superiors throughout the hierarchy, high-ranking officials in military hospitals and the military police corps as well as government were aware that deaths on a massive scale were occurring.” He also added that “there are reasonable grounds to believe that the conduct described amounts to extermination as a crime against humanity”.
The report noted that tens of thousands of detainees are being held by the regime of President Bashar al-Asad at any one time, whilst thousands of others have “disappeared” after being arrested by regime forces or abducted by armed groups.
In addition, the majority of victims of torture in regime prisons are men, although the commission did document cases of deaths of women and children (some of which are no older than seven years).
The report concluded by asserting that there are strong grounds to believe that “high ranking officers”, including the heads of branches and directorates which direct detention centres and the military police that were aware of the deaths and unidentified bodies being buried in mass graves. Consequently, these individuals are “individually criminally liable”; and the report renewed the call for the Syrian issue to be transferred to the International Criminal Court- a decision which lies with the Security Council alone.
The majority of deaths which took place during detention were in Syrian intelligence centres. According to the report, the Syrian security apparatus consists of military and civilian police forces, as well as four intelligence bureaus, which are: the military intelligence, the air intelligence, military police intelligence, and the general and political security intelligence. Each bureau has a headquarter in Damascus consisting of central branches which administer branches across the country, holding thousands of detainees.
The highest number of deaths was recorded in detention centres run by the military security, including branch 215 (the Raid branch), branch 227 (Damascus branch) and branch 235 (Palestine branch). This is in addition to the air intelligence branch in Mazzah Military Airport and detention centres of the state security, including branch 251 (the security branch on Khateeb Street) [all these branches are situated in Damascus]. A large number of deaths were also recorded to have taken place in Sednaya Military prison (rural Damascus) which is controlled by the military police corps of the Syrian army, and in which many detainees await their court case or serve their sentences.
Carla Del Ponte, a panel member of the commission, said that “It depends on the political will of states. Apparently for Syria now, there is none – there is total impunity, unfortunately”. She added that, “”We are still waiting for a green light for international justice”.
“The Security Council doesn’t do anything and can’t do anything because of the veto”, she added, referring to Russia, Assad’s ally, which has repeatedly used its power (through the veto) as a permanent Council member to block resolutions against Damascus.
Over the past four years, investigators- including former prosecutors- have drawn up a confidential list of names of those accused of perpetrating war crimes from all sides of the conflict. This list remains in a UN safe in its Geneva headquarters.
Reasons behind the Deaths Documented
The report documented several reasons which led to the deaths of detainees in Syrian regime prisons, the most prominent of which include:
- Inhumane methods of torture, in which guards and interrogators torture detainees using methods such as genital mutilation, burning bodies with sharp and hot metal rods, stubbing out cigarettes on eyes and so on. These methods of torture kill detainees both during the torture session and afterwards.
- Deaths due to injuries sustained through torture. All methods of torture cause severe infections which can lead to death in the absence of medical care
- The conditions of detention inside the detention centre, such as severe overcrowding, lack of food and drinking water, lack of health care, and the spread of infectious diseases.
- Several detainees develop psychological diseases as a result of their detention and the conditions they endure, as well as the manner in which they are cut off from the outside world. They then stop eating and drinking, and die soon thereafter.
- Immediate execution. It is believed that the intelligence apparatus do this by shooting at victims.