Amnesty International Report details torture
A new report by Amnesty International describes inhuman conditions in jails run by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. It alleges widespread torture including beatings, electric shocks, rape and sexual violence. The report said that more than 17,000 detainees have died in the government’s custody over the past five years.
The report titled “It Breaks the Human’ includes interviews with 65 torture survivors who described the conditions in Saidnaya Military Prison near Damascus, and jails operated by Syrian intelligence agencies.
“The catalogue of horror stories featured in this report depicts in gruesome detail the dreadful abuse detainees routinely suffer from the moment of their arrest, through their interrogation and detention behind the closed doors,” said Philip Luther, director of Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa program.
Amnesty says the conditions in the prisons are contributing to the high death toll.
“Detainees told us that the prisons are so crowded that people have to sleep standing up or in shifts,” Claudia Scheufler of Amnesty told The Media Line. “There is not enough food and water. It gets incredibly hot, and because the cells are underground, there is no sunlight and no fresh air. In these conditions it is easy for diseases to spread.”
Amnesty said the international community should do more to raise these issues and end abuses. The report comes as the fighting in Syria grinds on well into its fifth years. At least 400,000 people have died in Syria since the popular uprising began in 2011, and then morphed into a civil war. Half the country’s population has been displaced, and more than 4.8 million Syrians have become refugees.
The Amnesty Report shows new statistics from the Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG), an organization that uses scientific approaches to analyze human rights violations. It also highlights the role of NGO’s like Amnesty and Human Rights Watch in bringing abuses to public knowledge.
Analysts say that in some ways, the role of NGO’s is similar to that of journalists, but they often have more resources.
“In Syria, it has been very difficult for journalists to get in,” Jonathan Spyer, the director of the Rubin Center for Research in International Affairs at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzlia told The Media Line. “Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have conducted longer-term projects and can afford to keep people in the field for longer.”
As media organizations have faced cutbacks, many newspapers have closed their foreign bureaus, which are expensive to run and to staff. The number of freelancers in the Middle East has also declines, amid fears for their security, after Islamic State gunmen kidnapped and killed journalists James Foley and Stephen Sotloff in 2014.
Spyer said that large NGO’s can even have advantages over journalists, who may not know the local language or culture. At the same time, NGO’s, like journalists, must be careful not to impose their own biases when reporting or conducting research.
The fighting in Syria shows no sign of ending, although Islamic State has begun losing territory in parts of Syria it controls. As the fighting continues, there are daily human rights abuses affecting hundreds of thousands of Syrians. Organizations like Amnesty say it is time for the international community to do more to end these abuses.
Members of the Syrian regime forces stand at the entrance of a detention center in the northeastern Syrian city of Hasakeh’s Ghweran neighborhood, on July 13, 2015. (Photo: YOUSSEF KARWASHAN/AFP/Getty Images)