"Ending the horrors in Syria’s prisons" : report of a side event of the human rights Council

News - The CIPADH provide here a report of a side event occured in the frame of the Human Rights Council which currently take place in Geneva. It was organized by the International federation for Human Rights Leagues.


First panelist: A Human Rights Defender 

The practice of arbitrary detentions and the responsibility of the Syrian government 

The first panelist to take the floor was a Syrian human rights defender. He began his statement by condemning the arbitrary detentions frequently practiced by the Syrian government, which, to that end, leans on political security apparatus, and the three departments of general intelligence, military intelligence and air force intelligence. The government can arrest people anywhere and anytime they wish so, and the military department can enroll people without their consents for military needs. 

He pointed out the existence of secret detention centers of the government, of which the international community remains widely unaware of. Central prisons, such as Adra (a military prison), Hama, Lattakia, Homs, Al-Suwaydaa and Saydnaya have overall better conditions than the detention centers, and are not run by the military department, as one could expect, but by the intelligence. 

Torture is widely practiced in detention centers, through various methods and tools: “shabah” (hanging by hands), “dulab” (inability to move), electrocution, beating with batons, “german chair”, burning (hot water, cigarettes), and starvation. The panelist insisted that these are not punctual punishments, but systematic policies. At least 10 people are murdered each day under these occurrences. 

Other than detention centers, the government has also autonomous administration’s prisons, in the Al-Jazeera, Kobani and Efrin cantons, but very few information has been gathered about them. 

According to the panelist, people are tried in different courts:

The ordinary courts are the ones most commonly used mainly used, while the use of military and counter terrorism courts remains exceptional. The military field court remains completely opaque, and no information have spread about its uses, though the panelist states that around 9.000 persons have been transferred to this court. 

Armed Islamic group’s prisons

ISIS do have their own prisons, but then again the international community is confronted to a huge lack of information about it. While they seem to be civilian places from an external point of view, they are in fact prisons in which the same practices, sometimes even worse, than in government prisons are used. 

Al-Nosra is also known as having many prisoners, but no “official” or located prisons.

Armed opposition factions, such as the Islamic movement of Ahran Al-Sham and Jaysh Al-Islam, also have prisons: the count can rise up from 10 to 100 prisons for these groups, but it is quite impossible to be sure of it, as there is general lack of information about them. 


2nd panelist: Syrian journalist, detained for 2 years by the government

The inside of the Syrian’s prisons: A first hand testimony 

The second panelist, himself a journalist, states that since the beginning of the revolution, a lot of journalists, including the ones working for the State, have been arrested. Tortured and eventually killed by the government, by the same methods that the Nazis, it represents a crime against humanity that, despite all proofs, the United Nations has been unable to act upon and stop. 

The panelist’s testimony was very personal, as he was himself detained by the Palestine department, a branch of the military department, in which the Hafez Al-Assad regime used to arrest people. He was not arrested because he was pro-opposition or for any political reason, but merely because of his job, and spent three months in a room with other prisoners, one of them dying every two to three days. 

The panelist condemned the acts of torture he himself had first hand experience, such as starvation, “shabah”, the german chair and cigarette burns, notwithstanding the hygiene conditions, knowing that corpses often stayed several days in the same room before being taken away, and the frequency of rapes and public punishments. According to the journalist, each Syrian refugee can give a testimony against the Bachar regime, which could be used as proofs of the reality of the horrors endured. 

One revolt occurred in the Hama prison, for five prisoners were executed. The plan of the detainees was to use media to gain visibility and the attention of the international community but it did not work as well as they hoped it would. 

The panelist also insisted on the fact that opposition itself could not be seen as a real opposition, as it is often controlled by the regime. 


3rd panelist: Syrian lawyer, President of an association of lawyers, detained by the regime

Human rights violations in jail and the impacts on society 

The third panelist was a Syrian lawyer, President of an association of lawyers, who also was detained by the Syrian regime at the beginning of the revolution. His alleged crime was that he had defended the victims of human rights violations perpetrated by the regime. On a more concrete basis, the lawyer also explained the impact of these acts on the society: beyond theoretical human right violations, they have social, political and economic consequences. 

Inside the jails, the use starvation, lack of food, and torture provide an atmosphere suitable for fights between detainees. Sometimes, detainees had to torture each other. The ones that are transferred to central prisons (civil prisons) are considered to be lucky, but torture is also present there. 

The panelist also accused the counter terrorism court of torturing or blackmailing detainees and their families, the judges showing no respect of any procedures or legal frameworks. For instance, the detainees have no lawyers or defenders, and are also unable to defend themselves. 

As for Court of field military, it does not judge only soldiers but also civilians, women and children. The panelist accused the government of using women to protect themselves against the opposition, as the prisons are placed in the frontline between them the opposition forces. The conditions are also horrible: there is no drinkable water, no medicine, no basic goods for women, and sexual harassment is more than common. Pregnant women are also forced to abort, families forbidden from visiting, and female detainees are watched by males, as there are no female police forces. 


As the panelist showed, a fair number of opposition groups also practices torture. Women are therefore used and manipulated by the two sides: exchanges of women with other persons between the regime and the opposition forces are quite frequent. The regime uses women as war weapons to make the opposition more obedient. 

The panelist ended his statement by deploring the lack of accountability in Syria since the beginning of the revolution, for any forces and groups. 


Organizer of the event

The organizer concluded by stating that there is indeed a massive and systemic, widely unrecognized and undenounced violence in Syria. He regretted that people seemed to loose interest, and the obvious lack of transparency of the country. He asks for list of detained from both the regime and the opposition groups, and called on the United Nations and the International Criminal Court to take this matter into their hands. 


 Reported by Chloé Guille, research assistant for the Cipadh