Foreign prisoners, suspected of being part of the Islamic State, lie in a prison cell in Hasaka, Syria, January 7, 2020…
FILE - Foreign prisoners, suspected of being part of the Islamic State, lie in a prison cell in Hasaka, Syria, Jan. 7, 2020.

GENEVA - U.N. investigators say the fate of tens of thousands of people detained by all warring parties during Syria’s decade-long war remains unknown and a matter of great concern. The report will be submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council March 11.

The 30-page report by the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria documents a wealth of evidence about detention-related violations and abuses committed since the war broke out in Syria in 2011. 

The report is based on more than 2,500 interviews conducted over 10 years. It presents a horrific picture of human rights violations, of systematic torture, and other crimes committed in detention facilities. Authors of the report say many of these violations rise to the level of war crimes and crimes against humanity. 

Commission member Hanny Megally says arbitrary detention is used to punish critics and opponents by all warring parties, but is primarily used by the Syrian government. He says the brutal treatment of people in detention has been used on a massive scale by the government to intimidate and terrorize the nation. 

Megally notes the terrible mistreatment of tens of thousands of people arbitrarily detained in facilities across Syria has been taking place with the knowledge of foreign governments allied with or backing the different parties to the conflict. 

“These states have an obligation to discourage this through pressure on parties that they are supporting from continuing to torture, to arbitrarily imprison, to kill people in detention, to disappear them, to use sexual and gender-based violence against those in detention, etc.," he said.

Megally says these nations must stop funding and providing arms to the different armed groups. He says many of the thousands of civilians forcibly disappeared by the Syrian government are presumed to have died or been executed, while others are believed to be held in inhumane conditions of detention. 

He says the suffering of hundreds of thousands of family members must end. He says they must be told the truth about the fate of their loved ones. And those who remain in detention must be released, particularly now, he says because of the dangers posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

FILE - Prisoners from Iraq and Syria, suspected of being part of the Islamic State, sit inside a prison cell in Hasaka, Syria, Jan. 11, 2020.

“Overcrowded prison conditions that are poor and that lack hygiene is such a breeding ground for this pandemic that will spread. And, if it spreads within the system, the prison system and detention system in Syria, it will spread amongst the population and it will spread to neighboring countries and it will become a major international problem,” he said.

The report is calling for perpetrators of crimes to be held accountable and brought to justice. It recommends that U.N. member states enact effective legislation toKoblenz, enable them to prosecute individuals in their jurisdiction, as seen in last week’s ground-breaking verdict in Koblenz, Germany. 

Syrian defendant Eyad A. arrives to hear his verdict in the courtroom in Koblenz, Germany, Feb. 24, 2021. (Thomas Lohnes/Pool via Reuters)

In that landmark case, a former Syrian state official was tried and convicted of crimes against humanity in the torture and deprivation of liberty of individuals detained in Syrian prisons. 

 

 

Special Project

More Coverage