Syrian government forces have tortured or beaten to death thousands of detainees throughout the civil war there, according to a new report detailing “horrors” similar to war crimes committed by terror groups such as the Islamic State.
“Nearly every surviving detainee has emerged from custody having suffered unimaginable abuses,” said Paulo Pinheiro, the head of the United Nations’ Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, which published the report Monday.
“In the Syrian Arab Republic, massive and systemized violence — including the killing of detainees in official and makeshift detention centres — has taken place out of sight, far from the battlefield,” says the report, which is based on more than 600 interviews as well as “considerable documentary material.”
“The government has committed crimes against humanity of extermination, murder, rape or other forms of sexual violence, torture, imprisonment, enforced disappearance and other inhuman acts. Based on the same conduct, war crimes have also been committed.”
The killings occurred in multiple locations “controlled by the Syrian State apparatus, with significant logistical support involving vast State resources,” according to the report.
The report contains gruesome details of individual cases.
In one case in 2014, a detainee at Sednaya prison in Damascus was beaten to death by the guards who reportedly kicked his head and vital organs until the victim vomited blood.
“Other prisoners present were ordered to face the wall while the man was heard screaming,” the report says.
One cellmate who witnessed the beating told investigators: “He died. We closed his eyes, wrapped him in a military blanket and read the Quran in our hearts.”
The report also named anti-government rebel groups, including terrorist designated organizations like the Islamic State and the al Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, as committing similar atrocities in their own prisons.
“Jabhat al-Nusra has set up detention facilities in Idlib [in western Syria] where deaths in detention were documented,” the report says. “The terrorist group also conducted mass executions of captured Government soldiers. Both Jabhat Al-Nusra and some anti-Government armed groups have committed the war crimes of murder, cruel treatment and torture.”
The commission hopes that the report will prompt world leaders to seek justice for these crimes when reaching a peace deal.
“Accountability for these and other crimes must form part of any political solution,” Commissioner Carla del Ponte said. “Instead, these violations are being committed with total impunity.”
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