07/03/2012 08:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Syria Torture Centers Revealed

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and "">Video Detail Horrific

(New York) – Former detainees and defectors have identified the
locations, agencies responsible, torture methods used, and, in
many cases, the commanders in charge of 27 detention facilities
run by Syrian intelligence agencies, Human Rights Watch said in a
multimedia report released today. 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.

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The 81-page report, "">“Torture
Archipelago: Arbitrary Arrests, Torture and Enforced
Disappearances in Syria’s Underground Prisons since March
 is based on more than 200 interviews conducted
by Human Rights Watch since the beginning of anti-government
demonstrations in "">Syria
in March 2011. The report includes maps locating the
detention facilities, video accounts from former
detainees, and "/features/syria-documented-torture-methods">sketches of
torture techniques described by numerous people who witnessed or
experienced torture in these facilities. 

“The intelligence agencies are running an archipelago of torture
centers scattered across the country,” said Ole Solvang,
emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch. “By publishing
their locations, describing the torture methods, and identifying
those in charge we are putting those responsible on notice that
they will have to answer for these horrific crimes.”

Human Rights Watch called on the United Nations Security Council
to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal
Court (ICC) and to adopt targeted sanctions against officials
credibly implicated in the abuses. 

The facilities cited in the report are those for which multiple
witnesses have indicated the same location and provided detailed
descriptions of torture. The actual number of detention
facilities used by intelligence agencies is probably much higher.

Almost all the former detainees interviewed by Human Rights Watch
said they had been subjected to torture or witnessed the torture
of others during their detention. Interrogators, guards, and
officers used a broad range of torture methods, including
prolonged beatings, often with objects such as batons and cables,
holding the detainees in painful stress positions for prolonged
periods of time, the use of electricity, burning with acid,
sexual assault and humiliation, the pulling of fingernails, and
mock execution. Altogether Human Rights Watch documented more
than 20 distinct torture methods used by the security and
intelligence services.

In most cases former detainees were subjected to a range of these
torture methods. A 31-year-old detainee who was detained in Idlib
governorate in June described to Human Rights Watch how the
intelligence agencies tortured him in the Idlib Central Prison:

They forced me to undress. 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

While most of the torture victims interviewed by Human Rights
Watch were young men between 18 and 35, the victims interviewed
also included children, women, and the elderly.

Human Rights Watch research shows that the worst torture has
taken place in detention facilities run by the country’s four
main intelligence agencies, commonly referred to collectively as
the mukhabarat:

  • The Department of Military Intelligence (Shu`bat al-Mukhabarat al-`Askariyya);
  • The Political Security Directorate (Idarat al-Amn al-Siyasi);
  • The General Intelligence Directorate (Idarat al-Mukhabarat al-`Amma); and
  • The Air Force Intelligence Directorate (Idarat al-Mukhabarat al-Jawiyya).

Each of these four agencies maintains central branches in
Damascus as well as regional, city, and local branches across the
country. In virtually all of these branches there are detention
facilities of varying size.

All of the witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch described
detention conditions that would by themselves amount to
ill-treatment and, in some cases, torture – extreme overcrowding,
inadequate food, and routine denial of necessary medical
assistance. A graphic model depicting an overcrowded cell
described by one former detainee illustrates how the conditions
fall short of international legal standards.

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Diagrams produced by SITU Studio and Forensic
Architecture, an ERC-funded project.

The individuals who carried out or ordered crimes against
humanity bear individual criminal responsibility under
international law, as do those in a position of command whose
subordinates committed  crimes that they were aware of or
should have been aware of and failed to prevent or punish. This
command responsibility would apply not only to the officials
overseeing detention facilities, but also to the heads of
intelligence agencies, members of government, and the head of
state, President Bashar al-Assad.

Because Syria has not ratified the Rome Statute, which created
the ICC, the court will only have jurisdiction if the UN Security
Council adopts a resolution referring the situation in Syria to
the court. Russia and China have previously blocked Security
Council efforts to push for accountability.  

“The reach and inhumanity of this network of torture centers are
truly horrific,” Solvang said. “Russia should not be holding its
protective hand over the people who are responsible for this.”

Read the original report at Human Rights Watch.