mass death, torture and other violations against people detained in aftermath of islamic state defeat

People detained following the territorial defeat of the Islamic State (IS) armed group are facing systematic violations and dying in large numbers because of inhumane conditions in north-east Syria, Amnesty International said in a new report.

Aftermath: Injustice, Torture and Death in Detention in North-East Syria documents how the region’s autonomous authorities are responsible for the large-scale violation of the rights of more than 56,000 people in their custody. This includes an estimated 11,500 men, 14,500 women, and 30,000 children held in at least 27 detention facilities and two detention camps – Al-Hol and Roj. The autonomous authorities are the principal partner of the US government and other coalition members who defeated IS in north-east Syria. The USA is involved in most aspects of the detention system. 

More than five years after the territorial defeat of IS, tens of thousands of people remain arbitrarily and indefinitely detained. Many are held in inhumane conditions and have been subjected to torture, including severe beatings, stress positions, electric shocks, and gender-based violence. Thousands more have been forcibly disappeared. Women have been unlawfully separated from their children.


The conflict in Syria continued although hostilities decreased, while economic and social conditions deteriorated. Parties to the conflict continued to commit with impunity gross human rights abuses, serious violations of international humanitarian law and crimes under international law, including war crimes. Government forces and armed opposition groups and their allies carried out unlawful attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, including water stations and displacement camps, through aerial bombing and artillery shelling in northern Syria.

Government authorities, the Syrian National Army (SNA) and the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (Autonomous Administration) subjected civilians to arbitrary detention, abduction and enforced disappearance. President al-Assad enacted Syria’s first anti-torture law, which failed to address impunity or provide redress to victims and families, and ratified a new cybercrime law that criminalizes online criticism of the authorities or constitution.

The armed opposition group Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham and the Autonomous Administration continued to restrict freedom of expression and assembly. The government continued to prevent residents and internally displaced people in north-west Syria from enjoying their economic and social rights, including by obstructing aid to displaced people in al-Rukban near the border with Jordan.

IDLIB, SYRIA – APRIL 02: A Syrian kid is seen amid the ruin of a school after displaced by bombardments of Assad Regime and its supporter Russia in Idlib, Syria on April 02, 2020. Sixteen Syrian families take shelter in two school ruins in the north eastern district of the city. (Photo by Muhammed Said/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

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Sadnaya – Syria detentions – Collaboration with Forensic Architecture. Illustrations taken from the Forensic Architecture Platform. Saydnaya Military Prison is located 30km north of Damascus, Syria. The prison is under the jurisdiction of the Minister of Defence and operated by the Military Police. Saydnaya became notorious for the use of torture and excessive force following a riot by detainees in 2008. There are two buildings on the Saydnaya site, which between them could contain 10,000-20,000 prisoners. In April 2016, Amnesty International and Forensic Architecture travelled to Turkey to meet a group of survivors from Saydnaya prison. Since 2011, journalists and other monitoring groups have been unable to visit the prison and speak with prisoners from Saydnaya, so this was an opportunity to tell their stories. As there are no images of Saydnaya, we were dependent on the memories of survivors to recreate what happened inside. Using architectural and acoustic modelling, we helped witnesses reconstruct the architecture of the prison and their experiences of detention. The interview techniques were developed by Forensic Architecture at Goldsmiths, University of London, in consultation with the university’s Forensic Psychology Unit.

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