News / Middle East

HRW: Syria Has 'Archipelago' of Torture Centers

Syrian opposition members take part in a demonstration calling for more human rights in Syria, including putting a stop to physical torture in prisons, Beirut, Lebanon, December 10, 2009.Syrian opposition members take part in a demonstration calling for more human rights in Syria, including putting a stop to physical torture in prisons, Beirut, Lebanon, December 10, 2009.
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Syrian opposition members take part in a demonstration calling for more human rights in Syria, including putting a stop to physical torture in prisons, Beirut, Lebanon, December 10, 2009.
Syrian opposition members take part in a demonstration calling for more human rights in Syria, including putting a stop to physical torture in prisons, Beirut, Lebanon, December 10, 2009.
Selah Hennessy
LONDON — Syrian authorities have built an “archipelago” of at least 27 torture centers, according to Human Rights Watch. In a report published Tuesday, the advocacy group says abuse at the centers constitutes a crime against humanity.  

“The kinds of torture that we are talking about are really appalling types of abuse,"said David Mepham, the United Kingdom director of Human Rights Watch.

"We've had people put in stress positions, we've had people who have been electrocuted, we've had people burned with acid, we've had people subject to sexual abuse – terrible crimes have been committed,” Mepham said.

Human Right Watch began researching the report in March 2011 and has since conducted more than 200 interviews. The report has maps showing the location of the alleged detention centers. It also lists the agencies and, in many cases, specific commanders involved in the abuses.

Mepham said the aim of the report is to identify those responsible for abuse and where it has taken place so that one day individuals can be held accountable.


"We've had people put in stress positions, we've had people who have been electrocuted, we've had people burned with acid, we've had people subject to sexual abuse - terrible crimes have been committed,” Mepham said.

Human Right Watch began researching the report in March 2011 and has since conducted more than 200 interviews. The report has maps showing the location of the alleged detention centers. It also lists the agencies and, in many cases, specific commanders involved in the abuses.

Related video report by Meredith Buel:

Mepham said the aim of the report is to identify those responsible for abuse and where it has taken place so that one day individuals can be held accountable.

He said responsibility ultimately rests with those at the top of the Syrian government.

“Under what's called command responsibility, even if a more junior person in the Syrian intelligence agency or the Syrian military was responsible for this abuse, one would expect that the commanders responsible for that unit or that branch of the intelligence agency would know what was going on, would take steps to address it," Mepham said. "So the accountability and criminal responsibility for this abuse goes very high in the Syrian regime.”

The Syrian government thus far has not responded to the report’s allegations.

Human Rights Watch said the ill treatment carried out at the prisons constitutes a crime against humanity. The organization wants the United Nations Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court. It also wants targeted sanctions against officials implicated in abuse.

Fawaz Gerges of the London School of Economics said it is unlikely the report will sway the U.N. Security Council. “I think that Russia and China have neutralized the Security Council and thus the human rights report will not be able to bring about any qualitative change in how the Syrian crisis is basically viewed regionally and internationally,” he said.

For China and Russia, he said, the situation in Syria is viewed as a civil war in which both sides commit abuses.

“You cannot compare what the Syrian authorities have been doing to what the opposition has done so far," he said. "And yet the abuses are there and that's why the more the violence continues, the more human rights violations will be carried out in Syria by both the Syrian authorities and the armed wing of the opposition.”

In response to the Human Rights Watch report, Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague said Tuesday that there is “no hiding place” for those committing abuses in Syria.

He said Britain will work with its international partners to ensure those responsible face justice.

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by: Spongebob1966 from: Edmonton, Canada
July 04, 2012 2:19 PM
Yes, and these opposition forces that are getting mistreated are BLOMBING UP!!! goverment employees and civilians (including woman and children)?!?!


by: Michael from: USA
July 04, 2012 8:30 AM
God bless VOA! God bless Americans working on this Fourth of July Independence. Syria is being depicted as a Satanic entity. In reality, the leadership believes they are doing their duty to God. To change this, one would have to go back to the 1967 Six Day War. It is much too late for such retrospection

by: Carl Loeber from: US
July 03, 2012 9:51 PM
How ridiculous are the leaders of the West .. they say they will bring the criminals to justice .. after they have finished their deeds .. but they will not stop the criminals from doing the deeds .. what cowards are these leaders .. ridiculous cowards ..

by: Anonymous
July 03, 2012 9:32 PM
Syria Has 'Archipelago' of Torture Centers So do we.
And Iraq had WMD. Iran is very bad. Israel is the best. Propaganda as usual.

by: Fred Johnson from: Frederickburg VA
July 03, 2012 9:25 PM
“Under what's called command responsibility, even if a more junior person in the Syrian intelligence agency or the Syrian military was responsible for this abuse, one would expect that the commanders responsible for that unit or that branch of the intelligence agency would know what was going on, would take steps to address it," Mepham said. "So the accountability and criminal responsibility for this abuse goes very high in the Syrian regime.”
WOW that is really perceptive reasoning... Now why don't you apply it to your own country, with a board in your eye

by: Charlie McHenry from: Medford, OR
July 03, 2012 9:07 PM
Let's call this what it is, the long-anticipated war between Shia/Alawite and Sunni/Salafi sects of Islam. Does the Western world really want to hand Syria over to Salafis? That's who plotted and executed 9/11. Salafi extremists. We'd better pick our allies very carefully in this particular conflict, as all is not as it seems.

by: MSG G from: USA
July 03, 2012 7:51 PM
Well you have been warned, the less educated who have replied make reference to US torture. We are still the country who is bound by political correctness and our wars of law that govern It in such things. Our techniques are elementary compared to techniques used by our middle eastern friends. I wanted information but the army would let me use a sword or other devices to pilfer information. If you are comparing us to them you must be an arm chair warrior who has never experienced what occurs.
In Response

by: Endle Winters from: California
July 04, 2012 12:26 PM
Good one. Equate criticism of the US with being uneducated and ignorance of "what really goes on.."
The fact remains: the U.S. is not a panacea of virtue and human rights. The U.S. has the highest rate of incarceration of any country in the world, tortures detainees, and recently passed a law that allows the government to detain its citizens indefinately on "suspicion of affiliation with terrorist organizations"

Now reason that out with some vague logic.

by: ouchosparks from: USA
July 03, 2012 6:58 PM
The US, having embraced torture as a policy, and refusing to investigate and prosecute high officials who have admitted authorizing or ordering torture, can say nothing condemnatory against Syria. Indeed, Syria has in the past tortured US rendered prisoners, all with the knowledge and approval of our government.

by: jp from: canada
July 03, 2012 6:07 PM
After reading the article and comments, I despair of the human race. What does it matter who else does it? If that's your excuse for what you do, then you might as well give up the ghost.

by: jak jones from: australia
July 03, 2012 6:04 PM
What like Guantanamo? That bad huh, better get Obama to close em down ha ha
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