News / Middle East

UN: Detainees Tortured in Syria

FILE - In this photo, which AP obtained from Syrian official news agency SANA President Bashar Assad gestures as he speaks during an interview on Oct. 21, 2013.
FILE - In this photo, which AP obtained from Syrian official news agency SANA President Bashar Assad gestures as he speaks during an interview on Oct. 21, 2013.
Lisa Schlein
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay is condemning  what she says is the widespread and systematic use of torture in detention facilities in Syria.  A report just issued by her office finds detainees are routinely tortured by the government of Bashar Al-Assad and by some armed opposition groups.  

The report describes conditions of detention in some Syrian government-run facilities as absolutely horrific, with dozens of people crammed into a tiny cell, forced to use one hole as a toilet.  U.N. investigators say some detainees are subjected to physical, mental and sexual torture, which often leaves the victims permanently scarred.  They say some have died.

The report finds men, women and children are picked up from the street, their homes and workplaces.  Some are arrested at Syrian government checkpoints.  It says many are activists, including students, lawyers, medical personnel and humanitarian workers.

A U.N. human rights commissioner spokeswoman, Ravina Shamdasani, tells VOA her office has received extremely disturbing reports of the type of torture meted out to detainees.

“We have reports of this one 30-year-old university student describing how he was beaten, how his beard was pulled out in clumps, his feet were burned, his toe nails were torn off with pliers at an air force intelligence facility.  We have a woman who told how she was first berated and insulted, then beaten and then raped.  Another man also spoke about sexual violence against him," said Shamdasani. 

U.N. investigators say torture by armed opposition groups appears to be on the rise since 2013, particularly in Al-Raqqa in northern Syria.  But they say torture is not committed by all armed groups, and when it occurs it is sporadic and not systematic as is the case with the government. 

The report describes torture committed by two al-Qaida linked rebel groups - the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and the Al-Nusra Front.  Testimony from victims indicate those most at risk of being detained and tortured by some rebel groups are activists trying to document human rights violations and people believed to be pro-government or affiliated with a rival opposition group.

Shamdasani says it is difficult to know how many people are being detained or how many have been tortured to death because U.N. human rights monitors are unable to enter Syria.  She says the U.N. investigators interviewed 38 people who had been tortured and witnessed others being tortured.

She says it is difficult to document the number of people who have died in custody because the Syrian government uses various ploys to keep this information hidden.

“There is a very good attempt at cover-up. Sometimes families are requested to go to the hospital to pick up their relative's body and then their corpses are received in closed coffins, which prevent the families from seeing the body or verifying the cause of the death. In other instances, families are simply given the identity documents of their loved ones and do not actually see the body. And, occasionally, they are asked to sign papers saying that their loved ones were killed by armed opposition groups and to immediately and discreetly bury their bodies," said Shamdasani. 

Pillay says international law prohibits the use of torture, at all times and under all circumstances. She says in armed conflict, torture constitutes a war crime. She adds when torture is used in a systematic or widespread manner, as appears to be the case in Syria, then it also amounts to a crime against humanity.

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Comment Sorting
by: Not Again from: Canada
April 14, 2014 8:46 PM
It is interesting to hear that the UN is preparing reports that depict some horrendous acts at the worst and most negative end of the spectrum of human rights violations. Unfortunately, the UN, in my view, is complicit if it does not compile the names of all those in-charge of all these torturing groups, and if it does not compile all information about the identity of the torturers, as well as it can. Especially the identification of those in direct charge, and those in the entire chain of command; and were it knows, the names of all those involved, even those that are indirectly involved, the info needs to be collected, so that they can be called in as witnesess at future trials. These types of information will help in finding the criminals in due time.
The UN, in my view, needs to publish the details of all those identified tortures, even when it only holds partial id information; and make it clear they will not escape justice, by providing alerts to international authorities, making the information available to national authorities, which would prevent their escape under refugee type of covers, as the conflict draws to an end.
The full, and even partial, identification of those involved may serve as a deterrent to their dastadly activities. Unfortunately, so far the UN continues its policy of not disclosing the identifying data on those committing the horrendous crimes reported,as these terrible crimes are in progress, and the location as to were these inhuman acts are taking place also needs disclosure; therefore those carrying out these terrible crimes do so in the impunity of perceived anonymity.
Essentially, the reports are uncomplete, and potentially useless in the prevention of these crimes at the most negative extreme of the spectrum of the violation of human rights.

by: meanbill from: USA
April 14, 2014 6:05 PM
TORTURED? -- Like what happened, and still happens in Guantanamo? -- (or is this a different kind of torture since it's done by someone else other than the US, or NATO allies did, and probably still do?) -- TORTURE is torture by any other name, and if Syria is going to be charged with war crimes, and crimes against humanity, why isn't the US, and NATO guilty of the same crimes? .... REALLY?

by: Anonymous
April 14, 2014 5:19 PM
The world has known of torture used by assad since the beginning, since some boys detained were sent back to parents abused and murdered apparently. Secondly as far back as the beginning the rounding up of civilians by assads thugs being stepped on, kicked, and beaten while handcuffed in piles of arrested civilians is clearly all over youtube.

The world has to put an end to assad, put out an international warrant for his arrest and a tribunal. This needs to be investigated as soon as possible to save many more thousands of innocent people.
In Response

by: meanbill from: USA
April 15, 2014 12:50 PM
The US killer drone bombs, and the non-sanctioned bombing attacks in Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan, and wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, have killed hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, haven't they? --- WHERE'S the outrage? --- (Footnote); US General Curtis Lemay who ordered the firebombing of Japan cities that killed an estimated 500,000 civilians, quote said it; "That had the US lost the war, he fully expected to be charged with war crimes.") --- (Instead he's a hero?)

by: N. G. from: Germany
April 14, 2014 3:45 PM
wow.. really..?? Children Gassed and Tortured in Syria..??? can't be... only the US and Israel do these things... not Arabs... not Muslimes... we all know that Muslimes Arabs just blow their kids up in a righteous cause... like killing innocent Americans and Israelis...
In Response

by: meanbill from: USA
April 15, 2014 11:03 AM
The US and NATO killer drone bombs have killed thousands of innocent men women and children, and they call it collateral damage, not terroristic acts? --- A bombing is a bombing, done on land, or from the air, and they kill many, many innocent people, but the US and NATO bombs aren't acts of terror? --- CRAZY isn't it? .. How people judge those they don't like differently, isn't it?

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