The Systematic and Widespread Brutal Torture in the Syrian Regime’s Detention Centers Constitutes a Crime of Extermination; Civilized States Must Bear Responsibility for Protecting Detainees
The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) has issued a report on the occasion of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, in which SNHR documented the death of at least 14,227 individuals due to torture, including 177 children and 62 women in Syria.
The 25-page report states that the systematic and widespread brutal torture in the Syrian regime’s detention centers constitutes a crime of extermination.
The report notes that Syria’s government ratified the Convention against Torture in 2004, and Paragraph 2 of Article 53 of the Syrian Constitution prohibits the ruling authority from practicing torture. Moreover, the prohibition of torture is a customary rule which is not allowed to be altered or balanced against other rights or values by any state, not even in an emergency, while any violation of the prohibition of torture is an international crime under international criminal law. Those who have ordered or assisted in the perpetration of torture are criminally responsible for such practices.
The report stresses that, although all parties to the conflict in Syria have committed the crime of torture in one form or another, the Syrian regime, which controls the country’s military, security and judicial apparatus, is by far the most prolific offender, arresting at least 1.2 million Syrian citizens since 2011, who have been subjected in one way or another to torture and humiliation, with the regime still detaining the largest number.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, Chairman of SNHR, adds:
“Despite all the data that confirm the brutal torture practiced by the Syrian regime, which amount to genocide, no one has intervened to protect civilians and to save the reputation of international law. The Syrian situation constitutes a blatant failure of the Security Council’s response to conflict resolution, with the only solution remaining being through international intervention outside the Security Council to save the lives of 128,000 Syrian citizens who are still in detention, subjected to torture and deprived of health care, making them vulnerable to death due to torture.”
The report’s findings are based on an ongoing daily monitoring and documentation process, with the report including 14 accounts obtained through interviews with survivors of torture and with families that lost one of their members due to torture. These meetings were conducted inside and outside Syria. The report also outlines the most notable incidents and cases related to torture that took place between June 2018 and June 2019.
The report provides shocking details of the suffering of detainees in the Syrian regime’s detention centers, particularly in the headquarters of the four security branches and the military prisons, which lack the most basic sanitary facilities, ventilation and cleanliness, in addition to being overcrowded, stressing that these unimaginably squalid conditions are very deliberately maintained throughout the Syrian regime’s prison network with the aim of inflicting the worst possible suffering and debasement on detainees, causing them to suffer various kinds of diseases, and calculatingly neglecting their treatment in order to ensure the maximum agony for detainees until they simply die. The report also explains the ‘separation’ phenomenon widely seen among detainees in regime prisons, in which some detainees, due to the terrible conditions of their detention, beatings, torture, humiliation, deprivation of sleep, food, and water, reach a state of intense delirium, followed by amnesia or retrograde episodic memory loss, remembering only the past, becoming delusional, hallucinating and seeing objects or people that are not present, and breaking down in hysterical fits of weeping. Thereafter, such detainees often lose all control of their mental and physical faculties, ultimately slipping into a coma, with around 8 percent of the total death toll among detainees due to torture attributed to this phenomenon.
In this context, the report confirms that detainees imprisoned by the Syrian regime are subjected to two forms of barbaric persecution. First, methods of physical torture whose deliberate and unparalleled barbarism is an affront to every notion of humanity and civilization, which are inflicted by the most depraved sadists, and second, psychological torture inflicted through deliberate medical negligence in failing to provide any kind of medical care.
Despite the Syrian regime’s denial of torture in its detention centers, it has effectively convicted itself by issuing death certificates for forcibly disappeared individuals whom the regime had previously detained and denied any knowledge of, claiming implausibly that they died due to heart attacks or sudden apnea.
The report states that the Syrian regime is responsible for the deaths of at least 14,070 individuals, including 173 children and 45 women, due to torture in its prisons. The report points out that at least 916 detainees have been registered by the Syrian regime as having died in regime custody, while failing to provide details of the cause of death, or to deliver the bodies to their families, as well as failing to provide any notification of the deaths when they took place.
The report stresses that Syrian Regime forces have systematically and extensively practiced the crime of torture, often to the extent of killing victims, violating the right to life, as well as constituting a flagrant violation of international human rights law. It has been proved beyond doubt that the Syrian regime is fully aware of this and of the certainty that the inhuman conditions of detention routinely and inevitably lead to death. Yet, it has done nothing to stop this. Killings as a result of torture constitute crimes against humanity, flagrant violations of international humanitarian law, which amount to war crimes, forming a systematic and repetitive pattern, and can thus be classified as extermination.
According to the report, ISIS has killed at least 32 individuals, including one child and 14 women, as a result of torture in the terror group’s detention centers, with the report noting that the degrees of severity in the torture used by ISIS against detainees and disappeared individuals vary according to the charges against them and according to the detention center. According to the report, those detained and abducted by Hay’at Tahrir al Sham were severely beaten and flogged, as well as being subjected to torture methods such as electrocution and flogging, pulling out of fingernails, starvation and sleep deprivation. These methods resulted in the death of 24 individuals, including one child.
The report reveals that ISIS organized formal trials of detainees in accordance with its system of laws that ended with their deaths due to torture or by field executions and murder in a manner of unprecedented brutality, failing to respect any of the principles of international human rights law or international humanitarian law, constituting war crimes. Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, similarly, carried out torture, denied arrests, took hostages, and flagrantly violated international humanitarian law.
The report further notes a remarkable increase in the frequency of torture by Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic forces in 2019, some of which are of an ethnic nature. In their detention centers, these forces routinely resort to the use of severe beatings causing bone fractures, most commonly during the interrogation of detainees and abductees. According to the report, SDF has killed at least 43 individuals, including one child and two women, as a result of torture.
The report also records an increase in the toll of torture victims by factions of the Armed Opposition, pointing to the deaths of 43 individuals, including one child and one woman, in their detention centers, which constitutes a clear violation of international human rights law and of international humanitarian law, while perpetrating such acts against their opponents in a non-international armed conflict amount to a war crime.
The report recommends that UN Security Council and the United Nations should protect civilians detained by the Syrian regime from torture and lethal torture, and rescue those who remain alive. The report also recommends that the United Nations General Assembly should take the initiative in the Syrian situation and resort to invoking the principle of Uniting for Peace, given the total paralysis affecting the Security Council due to the Russian-Chinese veto.
The report also recommends that all UN relief agencies should search for families that have lost their primary breadwinner or one of their children due to torture, to ensure that aid is continuously delivered to their beneficiaries, and to initiate rehabilitation.
The report stresses that states which are parties to the Convention against Torture must take the necessary measures to establish their jurisdiction over perpetrators of torture and make all the necessary material and security efforts for this objective.
The report urges the international community to protect detainees who have become hostages of the Syrian regime which is, as a result of this lack of any action by the international community, killing whoever it wishes by torture with apparent impunity, adding that a coalition of civilized nations should be formed as a matter of urgency to intervene politically and militarily to protect civilians and save tens of thousands of detainees from death due to torture.
The report calls on the Syrian regime to immediately stop using all torture methods and deploying the capabilities of the Syrian state in torture and in the rule by terror of Syrian society, to immediately allow access for the Independent International Commission of Inquiry, the International Committee of the Red Cross and all objective human rights organizations to detention centers, to ensure the immediate and unconditional release of all those arbitrary detained, and to stop violating the Syrian constitution and international law in a horrific and monstrous way, which grotesquely insults the Syrian constitution and the Syrian state.
The report urges Syrian Democratic Forces to adhere to the standards of international human rights law, to stop the use of torture against political or military opponents, and to launch investigations of those involved in these crimes and hold them accountable.
The report further recommends that Extremist Islamist groups observe the implementation of international human rights law in the areas and prisons under their control and stop all forms of torture in their detention centers.