Regime intelligence services are running an “archipelago of torture centers scattered across the country”, according to a report released by Human Rights Watch (HRW).
The NGO interviewed hundreds of detainees and defectors who confirmed that there are twenty-seven facilities across Syria where the use of acid burning, sexual assault and nail-pulling have been used.
The existence of these facilities and types of torture techniques were confirmed by multiple witnesses. HRW have called it a ‘crime against humanity’ and said that this could be the tip of the iceberg – that many more centers could exist.
Last year, when reports began to leak out of the torture centers in Syria, Jonathan Miller, foreign affairs correspondent for Channel 4, presented the mounting body of evidence to ministers in the Assad government. The Syrian regime fiercely denied these accusations and continues to do so.
In an American television interview last year, President Assad said:
“We don’t kill our people. No government in the world kills its people unless it’s led by a crazy person.”
The HRW report comes as Assad puts through a series of new ‘anti-terrorist’ laws. According to the parliamentary bills:
“Those who are direct members of a terrorist group may be sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison with hard labor, but the punishment will be harder if the goal is to change the regime or the nature of the state.”
Critics said the new laws are clearly targeting members of the opposition and will likely lead to increased detentions in centers where torture is a known interrogation technique.
Although most of the detainees interviewed were men between the ages of 18 and 35, women and children were also amongst the victims.
One 31-year-old detainee spoke to HRW about his experiences in 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 days.”
There are now calls to get the International Criminal Court involved but the court would only have jurisdiction via the UN Security Council, and with Russia still at odds with the rest of the members, this seems unlikely to happen.