Middle East

Report: 2,300 prisoners tortured to death

Syrian detainees, who were arrested over participation in protests against Assad’s regime, are seen signing their release papers at the Damascus police leadership building Sept. 1, 2012.

BEIRUT: At least 2,300 people have died under torture in Syria’s prisons since the outbreak of the war, including 80 children, the Syrian Network for Human Rights reported Monday.

Only 5 percent of all victims were armed rebels, the report says, accounting for 107 of deaths under torture, while 25 women and 51 people over the age of 60 were killed.

The rate of killings under torture has increased over recent months, says the report, which is based on surveys.

March 2013 accounted for the highest figure so far, with 149 killed, an average of five deaths each day.

The real number may be far higher, it adds, as “there are prisons torturing people to death and then throwing away the bodies ... in vacant land or rivers.”

The report also details horrific methods of physical and psychological torture which it says are being used in regime prisons, including rape, electrocution, hanging, crucifixion, the removal of fingernails and body parts and burning.

The largest number of victims were in Homs – 573 – and then Deraa, where the uprising began, with 360 deaths.

The report also documents prisoners being denied food and water, being forced to bow to a portrait of President Bashar Assad, and being insulted for their religious beliefs.

The Daily Star was not able to independently verify the report’s contents.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights calls on the U.N. to investigate the claims, and refer guilty parties to the International Criminal Court, and urges the Arab League to pressure the Syrian regime’s main allies – Russia, Iran and China – to reconsider their support for Assad.

Since the outbreak of the war in March 2011, 194,000 have been arrested by government soldiers in Syria, the report says. Of those, 60,000 have constituted “enforced disappearances,” it adds.

One of the key demands of the opposition Syrian National Coalition has been the release by the government of 160,000 political prisoners.

A report published Sunday by the Human Rights Violations Documentation Center, another activist group, provides testimonies from what it says is a secret prison somewhere in Damascus where torture has been commonplace.

In its annual report on the global human rights situation Monday, Britain also criticized the Syrian government for its use of torture, among other war crimes.

“The Assad regime is responsible for numerous human rights violations including unlawful killings, arbitrary detention, sexual violence and torture against men, women and children,” the 2012 Human Rights Report says.

While Syria became a State Party to the United Nations Convention against Torture in 2004, “it has failed to implement the convention in practice,” the report adds.

“Previous detainees, including women and children of all ages, speak of beatings across the head and body with sharp and blunt instruments. The COI has also documented reports of electric shocks and cigarette burns to the body, sexual violence and deprivation of food, water and sleep,” it adds, citing U.N. evidence.

The report adds that opposition groups have also reportedly been “responsible for committing human rights abuses, though these were not on the same scale as those committed by the regime.”

British Foreign Secretary William Hague, speaking at the launch of the report in London Monday, said: “Nothing demonstrates more the need for a decisive international humanitarian response than the appalling disaster that is unfolding in Syria today. More than 100 people are estimated to be dying each day and the total death toll is now over 70,000. There is widespread evidence of grave violations including massacres, torture, summary executions and the systematic use of rape by the regime’s forces and its militias.

“These are intolerable crimes committed by the regime against its own civilians, and let there be no doubt that those responsible will be brought to justice. To help ensure that sufficient evidence is gathered for successful prosecutions, the U.K. has trained more than 300 Syrian activists and journalists to document human rights abuses,” he added.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 16, 2013, on page 8.

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