New Report And Website Track Syria's Surge of Deaths In Custody

August 30, 2011

Hamza Ali al-Khateeb
Hamza Ali al-Khateeb

On April 29, Hamza Ali al-Khateeb joined hundreds of people from al-Jeeza and other villages in peaceful marches towards Dera’a, Syria. The protesters were attacked by Syrian security forces, who reportedly shot at them and arrested several hundred people.

Thirteen year old Hamza Ali al-Khateeb was one of many who went missing. He was later reported to be held by Air Force Intelligence.

On May 24, Hamza’s family received a phone call to say there was a body in the al-Jeeza Hospital morgue which they should see, and one of Hamza’s relatives went to identify his body.

Publicly available video images reviewed by a forensic pathologist, and confidential material made available to Amnesty International showed evidence of a blunt force injury to the face, injuries to his head and back, a severed penis, and possible entrance wounds.

Sadly, Hamza’s story is just one of many. Nine other children, and at least 88 individuals in total, died in detention in Syria during five months of bloody repression of pro-reform protests. In at least 52 of these cases there is evidence that torture and other ill-treatment caused or contributed to the deaths. All 88 victims are believed to have been detained because they were involved, or suspected of being involved, in the pro-reform protests.

In a country which typically has around 5 deaths in custody per year, 88 deaths in several months represents a significant escalation in the number of deaths following arrest in Syria. Our latest report Deadly detention: Deaths in custody amid popular protest in Syria  and newest website, Eyes on Syria, document these cases and publicize the abuses.

Help Us Keep an Eye on Abuses in Syria
Eyes on Syria is an interactive platform that maps each case, and presents research on human rights abuses in Syria in an engaging way, prompting concerned individuals to take action against the ongoing repression. The public will be able to submit information on the individual cases through the site. Additionally, Eyes on Syria will further demonstrate international solidarity with peaceful protesters in Syria by providing a platform that tracks global Amnesty International activism in support of their demands for basic human rights.

In all likelihood, the scope of the offenses in Syria is not limited to the 88 cases presented in the report and on the site.  Amnesty International has compiled the names of more than 1,800 people reported to have died since pro-reform protests began. Thousands of others have been arrested, with many held incommunicado at unknown locations at risk of torture or death.  They do not need to share Hamza’s fate.

We have repeatedly called on key members of the Security Council – especially India, Brazil and South Africa – to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court, to impose an arms embargo on Syria and to implement an asset freeze against President Bashar al-Assad and his senior associates. Thus far, the response from the U.N. Security Council has been utterly inadequate, but it is not too late for them to take firm and legally binding action.

It is our hope that Eyes on Syria—with public documentation and increased visibility of past and continuing human rights violations and international solidarity with Syrians in their demands for basic human rights—can serve as a tool to help stop the violations and deliver justice.

Read the full report, explore Eyes on Syria, and take action.