11,000 reasons for real action on Syria

Thousands of individuals are currently held in Syria's state-run detention centres ©APGraphicsBank

Thousands of individuals are currently held in Syria’s state-run detention centres ©APGraphicsBank

By Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.

Beaten, burned, bruised, strangled bodies lying on a dirty floor. Some show signs of starvation, others are missing their eyes, a number of them appear to have been electrocuted. The horror is nearly impossible to describe… but it is hardly surprising.

The thousands of photographs, part of a report published today, provide evidence of the torture and killing of around 11,000 individuals detained in Syria between the start of the uprising in 2011 and August last year.

While we cannot authenticate the images, the allegations are consistent with aspects of Amnesty International’s own research into the widespread use of torture and enforced disappearance by the Syrian authorities, as well as deaths in custody.

The extensive experience and reputation of the international lawyers and forensic experts in charge of the investigation also contribute to its credibility.

Inevitably, the utter horror illustrated by these images will cast a shadow over the peace talks that will take place in Geneva in the coming days.

World leaders will probably condemn the abuses and express their dismay at the images.

But the question is: what can be done to prevent another 11,000 people from being tortured to death?

It is estimated that tens of thousands of people have been detained during the crisis. Among those still held are human rights activists, medics and humanitarian workers perceived to have been critical of the authorities.

Some have been given lengthy prison sentences following unfair trials while others have been held without charge or trial in detention centres run by Syria’s multiple intelligence services. The whereabouts of many is, simply, unknown.

What all have in common is the chilling possibility that they are suffering from the same abuse that is shocking the world today.

Majd al-Din al-Kholani, 25, is one of those detainees. He has been held incommunicado since he was arrested in Daraya, a city south-west of Damascus, in 2011 when he gave Syrian soldiers water bottles with flowers to oppose the use of force against demonstrators.

Recently Amnesty International received credible information that his case had been transferred to a field military court where he may face the death penalty or prolonged imprisonment.

In a separate event in August 2013, at least 105 civilians, mainly women and children, were abducted from their mostly Alawite Muslim villages by an armed group that had hoped to swap them for opposition fighters held by the government. They continue to be held hostage.

States taking part in the Geneva talks have a big responsibility on their hands. They must urge the Syrian authorities to release peaceful activists in detention, grant access to the Commission of Inquiry and other human rights bodies to investigate reported violations and monitor the treatment of detainees and to refer the situation in Syria to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.

They must also use any influence they may have on armed opposition groups to ensure they release civilians and treat captured soldiers and others humanely.

Anyone currently in the custody of the Syria goverment must be released unless they are charged with a recognizable crime. Trials must meet international standards. Anyone deprived of their liberty must be given immediate access to their family, lawyers and medical attention.

The horrific photos released today should serve as proof of the need for human rights and justice to be put at the top of any agenda and discussions.

Those participating in the peace talks in Geneva cannot stay silent.

The evidence of crimes against humanity on a mass scale is staring them in the face.

What more will it take to convince them to take effective action to stop such crimes and bring the perpetrators to justice?

For more information:

Syria peace conference must act on allegations of ‘industrial-scale’ torture and killings in custody (News, 21 January 2014)

Syria peace conference must end starvation for besieged civilians (News, 16 January 2014)

Posted in Syria | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

  1. This claim sounds like a bogus claim to me, reminds me of the claim that “Assad’s men” were behind the mall fire in Doha two years ago. Turned out the propaganda was put out by Syria’s political enemies Qatar and Saudi Arabia, who feed this info to Amnesty International knowing it will derail the peace talks. 11,000 is a nice round number, and I can certainly believe that “caesar” would collect all this info over the years, only to release it 24 hours before geneva!

    • Asil says:

      It doesn’t seem like a bogus. Look at what Assad is doing to his people now in Syria. Please show some compassion to the rebels. Take care

  2. According to the BBC, the report was “commissioned by Qatar,” which has been an enthusiastic backer of the opposition rebels since day one. It alleges that 55,000 digital images of 11,000 detainees show evidence of torture, starvation and execution. The images were reportedly smuggled out of Syria by a defector named Caesar.

    “Caesar” was apparently happy to take photos of dead bodies for years before releasing them to be made public just 24 hours before the start of Geneva II.


  3. Aman Sankari says:

    The saddest thing i’ve ever read!

  4. Josefina Salomon says:

    The allegations of torture and deaths in custody were documented in a report authored by three former war prosecutors who have, between them, considerable experience in prosecuting war crimes for international tribunals.

    The evidence of torture and deaths in custody in government-run detention facilities documented in the report is consistent with Amnesty International’s findings on the same concerns.

    Regarding the role of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, it is our understanding that the Qatari government, a key supporter of the Syrian opposition, did indeed commission the report in question, but there is no indication that Amnesty International is aware of that it exerted any influence on the content of the findings.

    Whether the timing of the report’s release is politically motivated is an interesting question. However, the questions we feel should be raised, both within and outside the context of the Geneva II talks are many: Why does the UN Security Council not refer the situation in Syria to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court?

    If the Syrian authorities are keen to dispel the allegations, why do they not allow the UN-mandated Commission of Inquiry into the country to investigate allegations of abuse and why do they not invite in independent human rights monitors to examine and report on the treatment of detainees in their detention centres – both formal and informal?

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