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.

You May Like

Republican Majority in Congress Off to Rough Start

Standoff over Homeland Security funding exposes philosophical, tactical problems within party More

Pakistan Blocks Baloch Activist from US Trip

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan slams Islamabad officials for stopping people from leaving country to attend human rights conference More

Video Muslims Long Thrived in North Carolina Before Students Killed

Idyll shattered February 10, when three Muslim university students living in Chapel Hill were gunned down by a neighbor More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
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?

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Sierra Leone Ebola Orphans Face Another Crisisi
X
March 06, 2015 12:28 AM
There's growing concern about the future of an orphanage run by a British charity in Sierra Leone, after a staff member and his wife died this week from Ebola. The Saint George Foundation Orphanage in Freetown is now in quarantine, with more than 20 children and seven staff in lock-down. The BBC has agreed to share Ebola-related material with Voice of America because of the difficulties faced by media organizations reporting the crisis. Clive Myrie reports from Sierra Leone.
Video

Video Sierra Leone Ebola Orphans Face Another Crisis

There's growing concern about the future of an orphanage run by a British charity in Sierra Leone, after a staff member and his wife died this week from Ebola. The Saint George Foundation Orphanage in Freetown is now in quarantine, with more than 20 children and seven staff in lock-down. The BBC has agreed to share Ebola-related material with Voice of America because of the difficulties faced by media organizations reporting the crisis. Clive Myrie reports from Sierra Leone.
Video

Video Growing Concerns Over Whether Myanmar’s Next Elections Will Be Fair

Myanmar has scheduled national elections for November that are also expected to include a landmark referendum on the country's constitution. But there are growing concerns over whether the government is taking the necessary steps to prepare for a free and fair vote. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman was recently in Myanmar and files this report from our Southeast Asia bureau in Bangkok.
Video

Video Nigeria’s Ogonis Divided Over Resuming Oil Production

More than two decades ago, Nigeria’s Ogoni people forced Shell oil company to cease drilling on their land, saying it was polluting the environment. Now, some Ogonis say it’s time for the oil to flow once again. Chris Stein reports from Kegbara Dere, Nigeria.
Video

Video Winter Weather Strikes Eastern US...Again!

A new wintry blast has hit more than 20 states in the U.S. Midwest and Mid-Atlantic region, adding more snow to the piles from previous storms. Tired of shoveling snow, breaking the ice and dealing with accidents, flight delays and property damage, most Americans hope this is the last bout of cold for the season. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Students

The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Fuel Shortages in Nigeria Threaten Election Campaigns

Nigeria is suffering a gas shortage as the falling oil price has affected the country’s ability to import and distribute refined fuels. Coming just weeks before scheduled March 28 elections, the shortage could have a big impact on the campaign, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA.
Video

Video Report: Human Rights in Annexed Crimea Deteriorating

A new report by Freedom House and the Atlantic Council of the United States says the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated since the peninsula was annexed by Russia in March of last year. The report says the new authorities in Crimea are discriminating against minorities, suppressing freedom of expression, and forcing residents to assume Russian citizenship or leave. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video 50 Years Later African-Americans See New Voting Rights Battles Ahead

Thousands of people will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of a historic civil rights march on March 7th in Selma, Alabama. In 1965, dozens of people were seriously injured during the event known as “Bloody Sunday,” after police attacked African-American demonstrators demanding voting rights. VOA’s Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights pioneers who are still fighting for voting rights in Alabama more than 50 years later.
Video

Video Craft Brewers Taking Hold in US Beer Market

Since the 1950’s, the U.S. beer industry has been dominated by a handful of huge breweries. But in recent years, the rapid rise of small craft breweries has changed the American market and, arguably, the way people drink beer. VOA’s Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Myanmar's Traditional Fashion Choices Endure

The sartorial choices of Myanmar’s men and women quickly catch the eye of any visitor to the tropical Southeast Asian country. But at a time when Myanmar’s political and economic opening is bringing affordable western fashions to the masses, will the country’s unique fashion trends endure? VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Yangon explores that question.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More