Amnesty International Documents Torture Inside Syria on a Scale Not Seen for Decades

March 2012 LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images
Press Release
March 14, 2012

Amnesty International Documents Torture Inside Syria on a Scale Not Seen for Decades

Note to Journalists:
Amnesty International can put media in touch with some of the torture survivors featured in this report (Arabic speakers) and can provide images of injuries sustained by torture victims.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, 212-633-4150, strimel@aiusa.org

(New York) -- Individuals caught up in the massive wave of arrests during the Syrian uprising are being tortured on a scale not seen inside Syria for decades, Amnesty International reported today, based on interviews with victims and eyewitnesses who escaped to Jordan.


The scale of torture and other ill-treatment in Syria is reminiscent of the dark era of the 1970s and 1980s under President Hafez al-Assad, the father of the current president.


Amnesty International said that the testimonies of torture survivors presented yet more evidence of crimes against humanity being committed by the Syrian government under President Bashar al-Assad.


In its report released the day before the one-year anniversary of the start of mass protests in Syria, the human rights organization said individuals arrested and detained for being involved in the protests described a set pattern of torture which began with severe beatings upon arrest.


Amnesty International researchers interviewed dozens of Syrians in February in Jordan, including 25 people who reported they had been tortured or otherwise ill-treated in detention before they fled across the border. The report, titled I Wanted to Die: Syria’s Torture Survivors Speak Out, includes the testimonies of 19 of these survivors. More than half of the individual cases are from Dera’a governorate, where protesters were first killed in March 2011. The remainder are from the governorates of Damascus, Rif Dimashq, Hama, Homs, Latakia, al-Suwayda and Tartus.


"We’ve watched in horror video images of people being  assaulted by the Syrian security forces, and we’ve seen the massive tank guns destroy whole neighborhoods in Homs,” said Suzanne Nossel, executive director, Amnesty International USA. “Now Amnesty International exposes the sickening details of people being tortured after they were arrested during the protests. We again call on Russia and China to  help bring this horrifying violence to an end - we hope these accounts of torture will finally move them to act on behalf of the people of Syria, rather than simply protecting the Assad regime.  These governments must stop blocking action by the United Nations Security Council that could end the Syrian government’s atrocities.”


Victims of torture described being beaten as soon as they were arrested and again on arrival at detention centers—a practice called “reception.” Individuals said they were beaten with sticks, rifle butts, whips and fists, and braided cables.


Amnesty International’s report documents 31 methods of torture or other ill-treatment by security forces, army and pro-government armed shabiha gangs.


Ann Harrison of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program said the testimonies “give disturbing insights into a system of detention and interrogation intended primarily to degrade, humiliate and terrify its victims into silence."


Newly-held detainees described being stripped to their underpants and sometimes left outside for 24 hours. They described harrowing torture during interrogation.


Several survivors gave excruciating details about being forced into a vehicle tire -- often hoisted up  and beaten, including sometimes with cables or sticks.


Amnesty International said it had observed an increase in the reported use of shabeh  where the victim is suspended, from a raised hook, handle or door frame, or by manacled wrists, so that the feet just hang above the ground or so the tips of toes touch the floor. The individual is then often beaten.


Eighteen-year-old “Karim,”a student from al-Taybeh in Dera'a governorate, told Amnesty International that his interrogators used pincers to remove flesh from his legs when he was being held at an Air Force Intelligence branch in December 2011.


Electric shock torture appears to be widely used in interrogations. Former detainees described three methods: dousing the victim or cell floor with water, then electro-shocking the victim through the water; the “electric chair”, where electrodes are connected to parts of the body; and the use of electric prods.
Gender-based torture and other crimes of sexual violence appear to have become more common in the last year. "Tareq" told Amnesty International that during his interrogation at the Military Intelligence Branch in Kafr Sousseh, Damascus in July 2011 he was forced to watch the rape of another male prisoner called "Khalid."


"They pulled down his trousers. He had an injury on his upper left leg. Then the official raped him up against the wall. Khalid just cried during it, beating his head on the wall."


Amnesty International has repeatedly called for the situation in Syria to be referred to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Russia and China have twice blocked weak resolutions by the U.N. Security Council that made no reference to the ICC.


In light of the failure to secure an ICC referral, Amnesty International said it wanted the U.N. Human Rights Council to extend the mandate of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria and reinforce its capacity to monitor, document and report on atrocities.


“There must be no doubt that those responsible for the crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations will face justice in Syria. The Commission on Inquiry must be allowed to continue its work,” said Nossel.


The research on torture is presented on Amnesty International's Eyes on Syria website (www.eyesonsyria.org), an interactive mapping platform that documents human rights violations in the context of the popular uprising. Also take action now to call on Russia to take a stand against the bloodshed in Syria.


Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 2.8 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.