DERIK, SYRIA - Syria's Kurdish-held regions have been hailed by some as areas of relative stability in a war-torn nation. But rights monitors have expressed concern about the justice system in the enclaves, known collectively as Rojava.
Recently, Kurdish authorities began working with international organizations to set up new prisons and managing them better. VOA visited the main prison in the autonomous Kurdish region of Syria, where most of the inmates are being held on terrorism charges.
As long as there is war, there will be prisons. And Kurdish forces in northern Syria are building new ones to keep up with the times.
In the Kurdish-held town Derik, authorities have been getting outside help to ensure their prison is up to international standards. Prison manager Ebir Khalid said the joint effort is working.
“We have good connections with international organizations. The Geneva Call, in coordination with the International Red Cross, educated the members of the internal security forces. They will soon take a look at the inside of the prison,” Khalid said.
Prisoners interviewed by VOA say they're satisfied with their living conditions. But they, and the international groups helping run the prison, are unhappy with the long sentences imposed.
One prisoner said he was forced by Islamic State militants to photograph Kurdish positions ahead of an attack.
“There is one location nearby and they told me to take pictures of that. I took the pictures and handed them to IS militants. One week later, I turned myself in to the local authorities,” said the inmate.
While the Kurdish justice system still troubles human rights groups, authorities say the prisons are run more professionally than in the past.
The manager of the prison in Derik chalks it up, in part, to high-level positions Kurdish women can hold.
“Women are usually more compassionate than men; so, managing a prison is a woman’s job,” Khalid said.
Gender issues aside, international prison standards are seen here as one way of ensuring human rights are upheld, even in war that has violated so many.