‘It breaks the human’: Torture, disease and death in Syria’s prisons

Report
August 17, 2016

‘It breaks the human’: Torture, disease and death in Syria’s prisons

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Harrowing accounts of torture, inhuman conditions and mass deaths in Syria’s prisons

The horrifying experiences of detainees subjected to rampant torture and other ill-treatment in Syrian prisons are laid bare in a damning new report published by Amnesty International today which estimates that 17,723 people have died in custody in Syria since the crisis began in March 2011 – an average rate of more than 300 deaths each month.

‘It breaks the human’: Torture, disease and death in Syria’s prisons documents crimes against humanity committed by government forces. It retraces the experiences of thousands of detainees through the cases of 65 torture survivors who described appalling abuse and inhuman conditions in security branches operated by Syrian intelligence agencies and in Saydnaya Military Prison, on the outskirts of Damascus. Most said they had witnessed prisoners dying in custody and some described being held in cells alongside dead bodies.

“The catalogue of horror stories featured in this report depicts in gruesome detail the dreadful abuse detainees routinely suffer from the moment of their arrest, through their interrogation and detention behind the closed doors of Syria’s notorious intelligence facilities. This journey is often lethal, with detainees being at risk of death in custody at every stage,” said Philip Luther, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.

“For decades, Syrian government forces have used torture as a means to crush their opponents. Today, it is being carried out as part of a systematic and widespread attack directed against anyone suspected of opposing the government in the civilian population and amounts to crimes against humanity. Those responsible for these heinous crimes must be brought to justice.

“The international community, in particular Russia and the USA, which are co-chairing peace talks on Syria, must bring these abuses to the top of the agenda in their discussions with both the authorities and armed groups and press them to end the use of torture and other ill-treatment.”

Amnesty International is also calling for all prisoners of conscience to be freed, and all others to be released or promptly tried in line with international fair trial standards, and for independent monitors to be allowed immediate and unfettered access to all places of detention

The report highlights new statistics from the Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG), an organization that uses scientific approaches to analyse human rights violations, which indicate that 17,723 people died in custody across Syria between March 2011 when the crisis began and December 2015. This is equivalent to an average of more than 300 deaths each month. In the decade leading up to 2011, Amnesty International recorded an average of around 45 deaths in custody in Syria each year – equivalent to between three to four people a month.

However, the figure is a conservative estimate and both HRDAG and Amnesty International believe that, with tens of thousands of people forcibly disappeared in detention facilities across Syria, the real figure is likely to be even higher.