Across Syria, tens of thousands of innocent civilians are currently being subjected to torture, starvation and sexual violence inside Assad regime prisons. As former detainees and long-time Syrian human rights defenders, we have experienced such atrocities firsthand and have worked hard to ensure that all forms of arbitrary detention and abuse inside Syrian prisons end. Unfortunately, despite the efforts of the UN Special Envoy for Syria, we have seen far too little progress on Syria’s detainee file. We therefore appeal to the European Union and its Member States to move with urgency to secure the release of arbitrarily held detainees and ensure access by intendent monitors to all Syrian detention centres, including Assad’s secret prisons.
Since March 2011 over 17,000 people have died inside Syrian regime’s prisons and approximately 65,000 have gone missing. There are many more cases of forced disappearances, not documented in these figures, believed to be in secret regime prisons and detention facilities. The murder, torture, and starvation of Syrian detainees—including women and children—have been meticulously documented, including in over 55,000 photos smuggled out of Syrian prisons by a former military policeman known as ‘Caesar’. According to Amnesty International, the torture inside Assad’s prisons is “widespread” and “systematic” and has been perpetrated as a matter of “state policy”. The former Chief Prosecutor of the special court of Sierra Leone, Desmond Lorenz de Silva, has likened the horrors ongoing inside Assad’s prisons to “industrial-scale killing” and the UN’s Independent Commission of Inquiry has called them “crimes against humanity of extermination”.
The evidence of atrocities inside Assad’s jails is overwhelming and indisputable. Yet it has not translated into progress on the detainees file. Despite the UN Special Envoy for Syria’s decision to appoint a Senior Advisor to handle the issue of detainees and abductees, independent monitors still have only limited access to Syrian detention centres, the whereabouts of tens of thousands of abductees remain unknown, and the torture and starvation of detainees continues unabated, as seen most recently in As-Suwayda prison, where the use of excessive force by prison officers resulted in two deaths and dozens of injuries.