Human Rights

UN report details decade of 'unimaginable suffering' for detainees in Syria

By Pakistan Forward and AFP

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In this file photo taken on August 23, 2012, a Syrian man shows marks of torture on his back, after he was released by regime forces, in the Bustan Pasha neighbourhood of Syria's northern city of Aleppo. [James Lawler Duggan/AFP]

Thousands of civilians have been subjected to "unimaginable suffering" including torture, sexual violence and death in detention during a decade of conflict in Syria, United Nations investigators said Monday (March 1).

Tens of thousands of civilians who were detained are unaccounted for, with no trace of their whereabouts, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria found.

The independent international commission has a mandate from the UN Human Rights Council to investigate and record all violations of international law in Syria since the outbreak of conflict in March 2011.

The three-member panel's 30-plus page report, based on 2,658 testimonies conducted over 10 years, carried out investigations into more than 100 detention facilities.

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A screenshot from a video presentation of the Report of the Commission of Inquiry of Syria: 'Violation in Detention Facilities in Syria' shows an illustration of detainees in a Syrian prison.

It found that almost every major party that has controlled territory in Syria since 2011 has committed detention-related violations and abuses.

"There are no clean hands," it said in a video presentation of its findings, while noting that the Syrian regime has arbitrarily detained "far more than the others".

The report notes the massive scale of detention, disappearances and patterns of crimes and abuses perpetrated by the Syrian regime.

It also noted the detention practices of armed groups, including extremist groups such as Tahrir al-Sham and the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS).

"ISIS and Tahrir al-Sham have also engaged in crimes against humanity connected with the deprivation of liberty, while ISIS carried out a genocide, in part through detention," it said.

'Right to the truth'

The report also outlines how arbitrary detention and imprisonment have been a root cause of, a trigger for, and a persistent feature of Syria's conflict.

"Tens of thousands of people in Syria have been unlawfully deprived of their liberty at any one time," it said.

"Arbitrary detention and imprisonment have been deliberately instrumentalised to instill fear and suppress dissent among the civilian population or, less frequently, for financial gain. Armed groups have also targeted religious and ethnic minority groups."

The report stressed that detainees continued to be mistreated in notorious detention facilities even as the conflict approached its 11th year.

"These detainees have endured unimaginable suffering," the commission said.

"The fate of tens of thousands of civilians who were forcibly disappeared by Syrian government forces, many nearly a decade ago, remains unknown. Many are presumed to have died or been executed."

"Hundreds of thousands of family members have a right to the truth about their loved ones' fate," said commission chair Paulo Pinheiro.

"This is a national trauma that needs to be urgently addressed by action from the parties and the international community," he said.

'Horrific methods'

Commissioner Karen Koning Abu Zayd said parties to the conflict had, with few exceptions, failed to investigate their own forces, with the focus seemingly on concealing rather than probing crimes committed in detention facilities.

The report said men, women, boys and girls detained by Syrian regime or pro-regime forces were subjected to inhuman treatment and torture, including rape.

"At least 20 different horrific methods of torture used by the government of Syria have been extensively documented," the report said.

"These include administering electric shocks, the burning of body parts, pulling off nails and teeth, mock executions, folding detainees into a car tyre and crucifying or suspending individuals from one or two limbs for prolonged periods, often in combination with severe beating."

The report called for all parties in the conflict to stop violations, immediately release certain categories of detainee and allow independent monitoring of detention facilities.

Its findings will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council on March 11.

The report makes recommendations on ensuring accountability for the crimes it outlines -- including by recommending that UN member states enact effective legislation to enable the prosecution of individuals.

It pointed to the February 24 conviction of a former Syrian regime official in Koblenz, Germany, who was found guilty of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity in the form of torture and deprivation of liberty.

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