Dozens Held in Syria Following Mass Arrests

July 19, 2011

By Mahsa Maleki, Syria Country Specialist for Amnesty USA

Update: Amnesty has issued an Urgent Action for Syrian political activist George Sabra, who has been detained since July 20. Take action now in support of his release. (PDF download.)

The death count in Syria continues to climb. Since last weekend alone, 32 people are reported to have been killed throughout Syria by security forces and the army, bringing the total number of reported killings to more than 1,380.

Political activist ’Ali al-‘Abdullah was detained in Qatana on Sunday © Amnesty International

As you read this, dozens of men are being held incommunicado at unknown locations after the Syrian security forces conducted mass arrests in a Damascus suburb last weekend, targeting people who supported or participated in pro-reform protests. They are at grave risk of torture.

Among those arrested and held incommunicado is journalist and political activist ‘Ali al-‘Abdullah, aged 61. We are especially concerned for his well-being as he underwent heart surgery three weeks ago and it is not known if he is receiving the required constant medical attention and treatment.

Recently, I read about a young Syrian who was tortured by security forces following an attack against the town of Tell Kalakh:

“They tied me up in the shabah position [strung up by the wrists and forced to stand on tiptoes] and applied electricity to my body and testicles. Sometimes I screamed very loudly and begged the interrogator to stop. He didn’t care.”

Reading this shocking testimony and the ever increasing number of killed civilians, I can’t stop to wonder why the world remains silent on the crimes committed in Syria.

Key members of the UN Security Council―Brazil, India, and South Africa―are currently failing to meet their responsibility to protect the Syrian population and are unwilling to support Security Council action. The Security Council has a variety of options to fulfill this responsibility, such as imposing targeted sanctions, stoping the flow of arms, and ensuring accountability by referring the situation to the International Criminal Court.

But despite reports of grave human rights abuses, the Security Council has remained silent since the protests for reform began in Syria more than four months ago in mid-March. Now it’s up to us to end that shameful silence.

In the past four months, Syrian forces have besieged towns, shelled residential areas, arrested hundreds, tortured detainees, and killed more than 1380 peaceful protesters. Amnesty International considers that acts committed by the Syrian government may constitute crimes against humanity as they appear to be part of a widespread, as well as systematic, attack against the civilian population.

The reports from Syria describing the human rights abuses committed by the Syrian security forces have been shocking. Witnesses told us that in Tell Kalakh, for example, the Syrian military used snipers and heavy artillery to crush the protests. The snipers positioned themselves near the town’s hospital preventing people from giving assistance to an injured young man. A clearly marked ambulance that was later carrying the victim’s corpse came under fire wounding the victim’s mother, brother, and brother-in-law.

In the same town, the Security forces damaged the city’s main source of water, looted the town’s properties, and shelled residential areas with heavy artillery. The Syrian troops also carried out house-to-house searches detaining scores of male residents, some of whom were later subjected to torture. The methods of torture in Tell Kalakh included tying the detainees in a stress position, severe beating, and applying electric shock to male organs.  We have received evidence that at least nine people have died while in detention — their bodies bearing signs of torture.

We have called upon the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court, to impose an arms embargo, and to freeze the assets abroad of the Syrian President and his senior associates. But the Security Council has yet to act.

The Security Council is currently considering a resolution which―if it includes a referral to the ICC― could be the first crucial step towards obtaining justice for the victims. But Brazil, South Africa, and India, together with three other members, have yet to give their full support for the resolution. Please let them know that it is high time that they meet their responsibility to protect the Syrian people.