Report: Syria tortures dissidents in 'archipelago' of prisons

Human Rights Watch report finds that Syria has created an 'archipelago' of torture facilities where the four intelligence agencies have used more than 20 distinct torture methods on detainees.

Courtesy of Kafarsouseh Revolt/AP
This citizen journalism image provided by Kafarsouseh Revolt, taken on Sunday, July 1, purports to show Syrians chanting slogans during a demonstration in Kafar Souseh, Damascus, Syria.

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The Syrian government has created an “archipelago” of 27 torture facilities throughout its country, according to a report released today by Human Rights Watch. Relying on interviews with more than 200 former detainees, the report offers the most comprehensive view to date of torture and abuse committed by the embattled regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Thousands of people are believed to have been tortured by the government since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011, but the report is the first to offer a detailed view of the problem.

“The systematic patterns of ill-treatment and torture that Human Rights Watch documented clearly point to a state policy of torture and ill-treatment and therefore constitute a crime against humanity,” wrote the report’s authors.

The 81-page report recorded more than 20 distinct methods of torture, including beatings, often with batons; electrocution; detainees being forced to hold stress positions for extended periods of time; and mock executions. By publishing the details of these findings, the report’s authors say that they hope those behind them will now realize that they “will have to answer for these horrific crimes,” reports the Guardian.

Although women, children, and elderly people were also tortured, most victims were young men between 18 and 35 years old, reports The New York Times. In one 31-year-old victim’s account, he was stripped naked when interrogators set to work on him.

“Then they started squeezing my fingers with pliers. They put staples in my fingers, chest and ears. I was only allowed to take them out if I spoke. The staples in the ears were the most painful. They used two wires hooked up to a car battery to give me electric shocks. They used electric stun guns on my genitals twice. I thought I would never see my family again. They tortured me like this three times over three days,” said the victim, a man from near Idlib in northern Syria.

Most of the torture was conducted by Syria’s four main intelligence agencies – Department of Military Intelligence, the Political Security Directorate, the General Intelligence Directorate, and the Air Force Intelligence Directorate. Each intelligence agency has a headquarters in Damascus and regional branches throughout the country, reports Al Jazeera.

“The reach and inhumanity of this network of torture centers are truly horrific,” said Ole Solvang, emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch in an article by the BBC. Alluding to Russia and China’s record of blocking United Nations Security Council resolutions against the Syrian regime, he added, “Russia should not be holding its protective hand over the people who are responsible for this.”

Despite China and Russia’s efforts to block an international intervention in Syria, today's report has drawn strong words from other international leaders. Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague issued a stern warning after the report saying that his country and its international partners would go to great lengths to ensure those responsible for the acts described in the report were brought to justice, reports The Independent.

“It highlights the horror of what is happening. The scale of the barbaric acts that are being carried out by the regime against the population is appalling. This Human Rights Watch report should act as a clear warning. There should be no impunity or hiding place for those committing these crimes,” said Mr. Hague. “Those responsible for systematic and widespread human rights violations should not delude themselves: we and our international partners will do everything we can to ensure that they will face justice.”

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