Torture in the detention centers of the Syrian Regime
Conclusions of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic
What the Commission states about the “César” report
Main detention centres of the Syrian regime where the use of torture was documented by the Commission of Inquiry
Some selected excerpts from reports written by the Commission of Inquiry
The thousands of photos from the “César” report, taken by a military Syrian photographer who risked his life to reveal to the world thousands of photos and documents of tortured and dead detainees between 2011 and 2013 in several detentions centres of the Syrian regime, are a set of materials, on an unprecedented scale, underpinning in a systematic and structured way the crimes against humanity and war crimes perpetrated by the Syrian regime.
They are additional elements to the multiple reports of the International Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights on the Syrian Arab Republic established by the United Nations Human Rights Councils. The international community has more than ever the duty to struggle against the impunity of the authors of these crimes; whoever they are.
The independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, established by the Human Rights Council documented the widespread and systematic use of torture in multiple facilities of the Syrian Regime, including torture against children. The collected information indicates the existence of a State policy implemented across governorates. The Commission concludes that the Syrian Regime Government has therefore committed torture and other inhumane acts as crimes against humanity.
Conclusions of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic
The Commission has collected numerous accounts of torture and deaths in custody in government prisons across the Syrian Arab Republic occurring between March 2011 and January 2015, supporting its finding of the crime against humanity of torture and murder.
The widespread and systematic use of torture was documented in multiple facilities in Damascus, including Military Security branches 215, 235 (also known as Palestine branch) and 227; the Damascus Political Security Branch; the Air Force Intelligence branches at Harasta and at Mezzeh military airport; the Harasta Military Hospital and Sednaya prison. Torture also included rape and sexual violence. The collected information indicates the existence of a State policy implemented across governorates.
The Government has continued to perpetrate torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment as part of a widespread and systematic attack directed against a civilian population, indicating the existence of a State policy. The Government has therefore, as previously found, committed torture and other inhumane acts as crimes against humanity. This conduct is also prosecutable as the war crimes of torture and inhuman treatment.
Intelligence and security agencies continued to detain young children together with adults, exposing them to sexual violence and subjecting them to the same ill-treatment and torture as adult detainees. In detention, children also witness violent torture and death. The presence of children was documented in Military Security Branch 235, known as the Palestine Branch, and in the Air Force Intelligence Branch in Mezzeh military airport (Damascus), detention facilities in which torture is systematically employed. In detaining children and exposing them to ill-treatment and torture in detention facilities, Syrian authorities, including the military, security and intelligence agencies, have violated children’s human rights and the rules of international humanitarian law, amounting to war crimes. They have perpetrated crimes against humanity, entailing individual criminal responsibility for the direct perpetrators of crimes and their authors at the highest levels of the chain of command, including the highest levels of Government
(Source: 9th report, § 73; 155; 195-196).
Government forces have directed attacks against the civilian population. The attacks have included widespread shelling and bombardment of civilian-inhabited localities and the targeting of civilians for arrest, detention and disappearance on the basis of their association or perceived opposition to the Government. As part of this widespread attack on the civilian population, in accordance with State policy, Government forces have perpetrated crimes against humanity of murder, extermination, torture, rape, enforced disappearance and other inhumane acts.
Men, women and children detained in the Syrian Arab Republic by various actors have been subjected to unlawful killing, severe torture and other forms of ill-treatment.
Nowhere are these violations more widespread and systematic than in detention centres of the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic. Over 600 former detainees – held in intelligence agencies and prisons – have been interviewed since August 2011. Almost all have been victims and or witnesses of torture. Many have been present at the death of cellmates.
Four years into the Syrian conflict, it is evident that the Government is responsible for the deaths of detainees on a massive scale.
Systematic patterns of torture were documented in Military Security branches 215, 227 and 235, Air Force Intelligence in Mezzeh military airport, and other detention facilities run by the Military Intelligence Directorate, the Air Force Intelligence Directorate, the General Intelligence Directorate, the Political Security Directorate and the armed forces.
(Source : 10th report, August 2015, paragraph 90 to 93; 168).
What the Commission states about the “César” report
« A preliminary review and forensic analysis has been conducted of 26,948 photographs allegedly taken between 2011 and 2013 in government detention facilities. Among them are photographs of case files and deceased detainees showing signs of torture and severe malnourishment. Certain elements — such as the location identified in some photographs as Military Hospital No. 601 in Damascus, the methods of torture, and the conditions of detention — support the commission’s long-standing findings of systematic torture and deaths of detainees. Investigations are ongoing, with findings largely reliant on the identification of further metadata.» (8th report, August 2014, § 26).
Main detention centres of the Syrian regime where the use of torture was documented by the Commission of Inquiry
Source : 7th report of the Commission of Inquiry – February 2014
Some selected excerpts from reports written by the Commission of Inquiry
7th report – 12 February 2014
E. Torture and ill-treatment
1.Government forces and pro-government militia
51. Torture and other forms of ill-treatment by government forces and pro-government militia continue to be perpetrated extensively at detention facilities, by intelligence agencies, at checkpoints around besieged areas, during house raids, as a means to extract information and to punish and inflict terror on the population.
52. Torture and ill-treatment are routinely committed in official detention facilities (see annex V), in particular intelligence agencies such as the Political Security Branch in Aleppo, the Military Intelligence Branch 227 and Military Intelligence Branch 215, the Mezzeh Airforce Intelligence facility, the Qaboun Military Police Branch and Sednaya Prison in Damascus, the Gharez Central Prison in Dara’a and the Military Intelligence Branch in Homs. Methods of torture, including severe beatings about the head and body, prolonged hanging by the arms and sexual torture continue, as previously documented by the commission. Victims showed physical injuries consistent with a pattern of torture.
53. Abuses were also widely reported at checkpoints surrounding besieged areas, around Al-Ghouta in September, as well as the checkpoints around Kafr Shams (Dara’a) until September. The use of torture and ill-treatment is part of the siege strategy, employed in order to contain the local population.
55. Conditions of detention were characterized by a lack of food, water, space, sleep, hygiene and medical care. Such conditions led to the death of detainees. One interlocutor stated that a detained family member had requested only one visit every six months, because he was beaten after visits and his health had greatly deteriorated after each visit. With inadequate sanitary facilities and no medical care, detainees frequently fell ill. In July, a detainee shouting in agony asking the prison guards to take him to a toilet was beaten to death in front of other detainees. Conditions of detention constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
56. Government forces and militia perpetrated torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment as part of a widespread attack directed against a civilian population, indicating the existence of an organizational policy. Widespread recourse to torture denotes a systematic attack on the civilian population. Torture and other inhumane acts as crimes against humanity, as well as war crimes, were committed by government forces and militia.
F. Sexual and gender-based violence
1. Government forces and pro-government militia
63. In November 2013, in Damascus Military Intelligence Branch 215, a woman underwent an intimate body search by a male commander before being tortured and sexually assaulted. In December, she was transferred to Military Intelligence in Homs where she was tortured and orally raped.
64. In 2012, in an intelligence branch in Hama, five women were tortured daily, including by electrocution, for more than a month. During the same period, two women were raped by officers in command for 15 consecutive days. In August 2013, a woman was stripped and exposed at a checkpoint near Al-Jadeedah before being taken to the Hama branch, where she was raped. In December 2013, an 18-year-old girl was tortured and repeatedly raped.
65. Sexual torture, including the tying of genitals, has been systematically perpetrated against men and boys in custody in Damascus, Homs and Aleppo. In November 2012, a man was raped in Al Khatib security branch, Damascus. In January 2013, at the Homs Security Branch, security agents beat and electrocuted the genitals of a 17-year-old boy and raped him while others watched.
69. Rape, sexual torture and sexual violence were perpetrated by government forces and militia against men, women and children. This conduct was committed as part of a widespread attack, where civilians were targeted for detention and systematically subjected to multiple violations. These acts constitute crimes against humanity, war crimes and violations of international human rights law.
G. Violations of children’s rights
75. Children were detained with adults and subjected to torture inside the Aleppo Political Security Branch and the Military Security Branch detention facilities in Damascus. A 15-year-old boy, who spent three months in detention until late July, was subjected to daily torture. Scars, including cigarette burns, were visible on his body. He demonstrated marked signs of post-traumatic stress.
78. Government forces and militia perpetrated acts that constitute war crimes, including torture of children in detention and the recruitment and use of children.
10. Enforced disappearances have been carried out since the beginning of the uprising in Syria. Most disappearances were perpetrated by intelligence and security officers, as well as by the Syrian army, sometimes in conjunction with pro-government militias acting on behalf of the Government. In all the cases documented, the perpetrators operated with impunity.
11. The violation of enforced disappearance is often a gateway to the commission of other offences, most particularly torture. Survivors of enforced disappearances consistently described being subjected to torture during their detention. In all the instances documented, the victims were denied their fundamental right to due process. They were deprived of contact with the outside world, including close relatives. No legal assistance was provided. They were placed outside the law, at the mercy of their captors.
A. Silencing the opposition
12. Consistent accounts indicate that in the early days of Syria’s unrest, enforced disappearances were employed by the Government to silence the opposition and spread fear amongst relatives and friends of demonstrators, activists and bloggers.
13. Military commanders undertook a coordinated policy together with intelligence agencies to target civilian protesters through mass arrests and enforced disappearances in 2011 and early 2012. A former officer of an army brigade operating in Al-Waer in Homs stated that during the army operations in Bab Amr in January 2012, soldiers attacked protesters in the streets while intelligence officers systematically arrested all those who were not killed. Following the attacks against demonstrators, the same brigade carried out house raids, jointly with intelligence officers, indiscriminately arresting more individuals. Their families were never informed of their whereabouts.
14. One survivor, arrested by the Air Force Intelligence in March 2011 after taking part in a demonstration, was transported to the Mezzeh Airport Prison, where he was interrogated and tortured. Subsequently, he was transferred to the premises of the Air Force Intelligence, where a high-ranking officer openly threatened to kill him should he participate in further demonstrations. Throughout his ordeal and despite repeated attempts to locate him, his family was never notified of his arrest, detention and whereabouts.
16. Consistent testimonies reveal a pattern; the vast majority of those disappeared in 2011 and early 2012 were young men. A man, who defected from the political security branch of Aleppo in March 2012, reported that officers received orders to arrest every young male and adolescent between 16 and 40 years old that participated in demonstrations.
Without a trace
26. Defectors who participated in mass arrests as well as survivors revealed that in the majority of cases, the officers in charge of the initial arrest took the abductees to the premises of their respective security or military branches. Despite the organised nature of the arrests and detentions, authorities often failed to record the personal details of detainees, including those who died in detention, making it difficult to trace them and inform their families. The family of a person arrested in Idlib in September 2011 attempted to determine his whereabouts. The interviewee described how “Wherever they searched, the authorities said that his name was not recorded”.
27. A defector told of a mass arrest in Jisr Al Shoughour, Idlib in June 2011, where those detained were taken to a school that was used as an ad hoc detention facility. There, detainees were subjected to painful and humiliating physical treatment. Their names were never registered rendering any attempts to determine their whereabouts futile. In late August 2011, officers of the Military Security in Latakia arrested four family members of an interviewee and took them to an unknown location. Three weeks later, a young man who was arrested together with the interviewee’s cousins informed him that his relatives had been transferred to the military hospital of Latakia. Upon inquiry, it was discovered that their names never appeared in the hospital’s registry.
42. In a revealing account, a man who defected from the Hama Air Force Intelligence at the end of 2012, described orders he received not to provide information about the whereabouts of detainees or to speak to their relatives. He added that cameras were placed at the gates of the Air Force Intelligence premises, to monitor the officers and deter them from speaking to families inquiring about their relatives.
43. In some instances, the families only discover the fate of the disappeared when their bodies are recovered or in a minority of cases, are returned to them. However, several accounts indicate that Government forces take deliberate steps to conceal the cause and circumstances of the death, violating the families’ right to truth. Interviewees who had lost families members consistently described how their bodies were returned by Government authorities without explanation. In April 2011, a child was arrested in Dara’a¬, and taken to an Air Force Intelligence facility in Damascus. His family searched for their son in hospitals to no avail, fearing that he had been detained or killed. His body, bearing extensive signs of torture, was returned to his family in June 2011. No information was provided about the grounds for his detention or the circumstances of his death. The father of a young activist, arrested by security forces in late July 2012 in Latakia and whose whereabouts were unknown, received a phone call eleven days after his son’s disappearance. He was asked to go to Damascus to recover the body of his son, who, he was told, had been killed in a car accident. The body bore traces of severe torture.
50. Syrian authorities created a climate of intimidation such that families did not dare inquire about their loved ones or file any formal complaints, and systematically denied the disappearance or refused to disclose any information. They also violated their duty to duly investigate enforced disappearances. The Government has further violated families’ non-derogable right to know the truth regarding the circumstances of the enforced disappearance, the progress and results of the investigation and the fate of the disappeared person.
52. Enforced disappearances are perpetrated as part of a widespread campaign of terror against the civilian population. Government forces have engaged in enforced disappearance in violation of their international legal obligations. Given the geographic spread of the documented cases and the consistent manner in which abductions and arrests are carried out, there are reasonable grounds to believe that enforced disappearances were committed by Government forces, as part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population, and therefore amount to a crime against humanity.
53. The direct victims of enforced disappearances were systematically denied their fundamental human rights, more particularly their rights not to be arbitrarily detained, not to be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, as well as their rights to liberty and security, to be recognized as a person before the law and to be treated with humanity and with the inherent dignity of the human person.
54. By failing to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty, the Government has violated the family’s right to the truth. The ensuing mental anguish suffered may breach family members’ rights not to be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Where family members have been arrested when they sought to make inquiries from the authorities, their rights to liberty and security have also been violated.
Government detention centres
1. The majority of detainees interviewed by the Commission stated that they had been tortured or ill-treated during their interrogation. Methods of torture documented by the Commission were consistent across the country. They included mock executions; electric shocks applied to sensitive parts of the body, including genitals; cigarettes burns; and beating with electric cables, whips, metal and wooden sticks and rifle butts. There were multiple reports of detainees being beaten about the head and on the soles of the feet. The Commission also received reports of detainees being placed into prolonged stress positions (shabeh) and the use of vehicle tires to hold hands and feet in uncomfortable positions (dulab) while beatings were administered. In many of the interviews, scars and wounds, consistent with their accounts, were still visible.b Detainees were denied medical care, left to die of chronic illnesses and untreated wounds and injuries. Children were often detained in the same detention facilities as adults and subject to the same levels of torture. As prisons have become overcrowded, the detention conditions have become deplorable. Sanitary facilities are limited and inadequate, spreading illnesses among detainees. Detainees are not accorded adequate food, leading to reports of starvation and malnourishment.
2. The list presented below identifies the Government detention facilities in which cases of torture have been documented. Others cases of tortures have also been documented in other locations controlled by Government forces, such as ad hoc detention places or checkpoints, which were not included in this list.
32. Security forces have arrested and detained wounded persons in medical facilities, claiming bullet or shrapnel wounds as evidence of participation in opposition activities. The overbroad formulation of Law 19, article 10 allows its application in a manner that requires doctors to inform on patients in all cases, which is inconsistent with international humanitarian law’s insistence that “persons engaged in medical activities shall not be compelled to perform acts or to carry out work contrary to medical ethics or to other medical rules designed for the benefit of the wounded and sick”. In several instances, medical personnel refused to treat persons for fear of arrest. In Aleppo, Damascus, Dara’a, Dayr az Zawr, Hama, Homs, Idlib and Latakia governorates, wounded and sick persons were denied treatment on sectarian or political grounds by Government forces. Healthcare has become militarized to the extent that many in need elect not to seek medical assistance in hospitals for fear of arrest, detention, torture or death. Through such measures, the Government has deliberately obstructed the efforts of the sick and wounded to receive help.
33. In exploiting medical care to further strategic and military aims, Government forces have engaged in agonizing cruelty against the sick and wounded. The Commission has recorded consistent accounts spanning the conflict of the ill-treatment and torture of persons in military hospitals. There are strong indications of collusion between military hospitals and various security agencies in the use of torture.
34. Between April and August 2011, security officers, at times with the involvement of medical personnel, beat persons in the emergency trauma ward of the Military Hospital of Tishrin, Damascus. Most victims of this ill-treatment were protesters that had been injured by Government forces.
35.The Military Hospital of Aleppo contains a detention ward operated by the Aleppo Military Security branch. According to former doctors and medical personnel who worked in the hospital between November 2011 and December 2012, patients in this ward are heavily guarded by security officers, chained to their beds and blindfolded. Security personnel act as intermediaries between patient and doctor, often obstructing medical care as a torture and interrogation tactic.
36 .Former patients, doctors and medical personnel have consistently described the alarming treatment of persons in Military Hospital No. 601 in Al Mezzeh, Damascus. Accounts indicate that some medical professionals have been co-opted into the maltreatment. Since 2011, Military Security, Military Intelligence, Air Force Intelligence, the Security Department of the Syrian Army’s 4th Division and the Republican Guard have brought detainees to separate security wards inside the hospital. Detainees, including children, have been beaten, burned with cigarettes, and subjected to torture that exploits pre-existing injuries. Many patients have been tortured to death in this facility.
37. Consistent accounts from Abdul Qadir Al Shaqfa Military Hospital in Al Waer, Homs, indicate that security officers tortured persons brought for medical treatment from April 2011 to September 2012. Doctors were ordered to keep victims alive so that they could be interrogated further. Eyewitnesses describe how patients were chained to their beds and blindfolded, provided minimal food and water and subjected to harsh treatment.
8th report (13rd August 2014)
A. Massacres and other unlawful killing
20. Reports of deaths in custody in government detention centres in Damascus have risen. In most instances, the Government failed to acknowledge the majority of detentions and deaths in prisons, with relatives receiving information from former detainees or bribed officials.
21. Detainees have died from injuries sustained during torture. Others died from lack of food and medical care. Many families, however, were denied information concerning the circumstances of their relatives’ deaths. Where officially informed, families were often told the detainee died of a heart attack. One father, told of the death of his 28-year-old son, stated “it seems now everyone in Syria has a heart attack”, attesting to the Syrian authorities’ pervasive practice of concealing the cause of death.
22. There were multiple reports of deaths in custody at the Mezzeh airport detention facility, Military Security Branches 215 and 235 and Sednaya Prison. A pattern of families being directed to the Qaboun Military Police and then to Tishreen Military Hospital prevailed. In most cases, bodies were not returned. Many are reportedly buried in Najha cemetery. Without access, that information cannot be confirmed.
23. In January, the Qaboun Military Police informed a family that a male relative, who had been detained and disappeared in 2011, had died of a heart attack. The family was directed to Tishreen Military Hospital to collect the death certificate, but could not retrieve the body. In March, a family visited the Qaboun Military Police, seeking the rights to visit a relative detained in November 2011. They were directed to Tishreen Military Hospital, where they received documentation stating that their relative had been detained in Sednaya Prison and had died of a heart condition in August 2013. The body was not returned. On 9 May, an elderly man was arrested trying to cross into Lebanon. Four days later, his wife received a call from the municipal authorities in Damascus informing her that she could collect her husband’s body from Tishreen Military Hospital. She was too frightened to go. Other military hospitals, notably Mezzeh Military Hospital, also known as Hospital No. 601, also provided death certificates to families.
24. In mid-2013, a 12-year-old boy was arrested in Damascus after speaking with his cousin, a member of an armed group. The family hired a lawyer, who determined that the boy had been held in Military Security Branch 235. On their taking the matter to court, the judge informed them that the boy was at a private hospital. When they arrived there, they were told their son was dead. His body bore marks of severe torture, including electrocution.
25. Other families were informed of the death of their relatives by former detainees. There has been no official recognition of those deaths and no return of the bodies, making them impossible to confirm. Multiple reports of deaths in custody in Damascus between March 2011 and December 2013 were also received.
26. A preliminary review and forensic analysis has been conducted of 26,948 photographs allegedly taken between 2011 and 2013 in government detention facilities. Among them are photographs of case files and deceased detainees showing signs of torture and severe malnourishment. Certain elements — such as the location identified in some photographs as Military Hospital No. 601 in Damascus, the methods of torture, and the conditions of detention — support the commission’s long-standing findings of systematic torture and deaths of detainees. Investigations are ongoing, with findings largely reliant on the identification of further metadata.
D. Torture and ill-treatment
1. Government forces
52. Government officials continue to commit torture and other forms of ill-treatment at intelligence agencies and in prisons and military hospitals, subjecting tens of thousands of victims to unimaginable suffering. Most are civilians initially held at checkpoints or during military incursions. While the majority of accounts concerned male detainees, there were increased reports of female detainees suffering abuse in government custody. The frequency, duration and severity of the torture suggest that victims are likely to suffer long-term damage to their psychological as well as physical well-being.
53. Widespread and systematic use of torture was documented in multiple facilities in Damascus, including Mezzeh airport detention facility, Military Security Branch 215, Military Security Branch 235 (also known as Palestine branch), Military Security Branch 227, Damascus Political Security Branch, Adra prison, Harasta Air Force Intelligence branch and Harasta Military Hospital.
54. In January, a man was arrested at a checkpoint in eastern Dara’a and taken to Mezzeh, where he remained for four months. He suffered daily beatings. Cellmates were beaten and burned with cigarettes. He was released without appearing in court. In February, a man, arrested at a checkpoint between Dara’a and Damascus, was taken to Mezzeh detention facility where intelligence agents beat him until he lost consciousness. In April, a man detained at Mezzeh detention facility was beaten with fists and a pipe and suspended from the ceiling by his wrists. He heard other detainees, including females, being beaten. He was forced to place his thumbprint on a confession and appeared unrepresented before a judge, before being released.
55. A detainee, released in 2014 after being held for over two years in Al-Ghirz prison (Dara’a), chronicled severe beatings with hoses and sticks and being starved. He is now partially paralysed; medical records document damage to his spinal cord.
56. Accounts of torture committed between 2011 and 2013 were collected by the commission, bolstering its previous findings of the crime against humanity of torture. In late 2013, a woman was arrested at a checkpoint in Jaramana (Damascus) and taken to Mezzeh detention facility. During interrogations, government officials hung her from the ceiling by her wrists and beat her on the head, body and soles of her feet. Scars are still visible. Another woman, a defector, held in Military Security Branch 235 in late 2012, was beaten until she was “swimming in blood”. She was hung from the ceiling by her wrists for hours. She heard other detainees screaming during interrogations.
57. The methods of torture used by the Government include severe beatings about the head and body and on the soles of the feet and prolonged hanging by the wrists from the ceiling or wall. There has been marked use of electrocution. Victims’ physical injuries were consistent with a pattern of torture.
58. There has been a rise in reported deaths in custody.
59. Conditions of detention were characterized by a lack of food, water, space, sleep, hygiene and medical care and denial of life-saving medicine. Such conditions led to the death of detainees. Most detainees reported a severe lack of food, with some losing as much as half their body weight while detained. Such conditions of detention constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
60. Government forces have perpetrated torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment as part of a widespread and systematic attack directed against a civilian population, indicating the existence of a State policy. Torture and other inhumane acts as crimes against humanity, as well as war crimes, continue to be committed by the Government.
9th report (5 February 2015 (A/ HRC/28/69))
73. The Commission has collected numerous accounts of torture and deaths in custody in government prisons across the Syrian Arab Republic occurring between March 2011 and January 2015, supporting its finding of the crime against humanity of torture and murder. The widespread and systematic use of torture was documented in multiple facilities in Damascus, including Military Security branches 215, 235 (also known as Palestine branch) and 227; the Damascus Political Security Branch; the Air Force Intelligence branches at Harasta and at Mezzeh military airport; the Harasta Military Hospital and Sednaya prison. The documented physical injuries of victims were consistent with their accounts of severe torture inflicted as a method of interrogation, or to degrade and humiliate. Torture also included rape and sexual violence. Conditions of detention were characterized by a lack of food, water, space, sleep, hygiene and medical care, and the denial of life-saving medicine. Detainees were often stripped on arrival and held for long periods in their underwear. The collected information indicates the existence of a State policy implemented across governorates.
74. There were multiple reports of deaths in custody at the Air Force Intelligence branch at Mezzeh military airport, Military Security branches 215 and 235 and Sednaya prison. Families of detainees were frequently directed to the Al-Qaboun Military Police to obtain information on detained relatives and then to Tishreen Military Hospital. In most cases, however, bodies were not returned. State authorities issued fabricated death certificates with the apparent intent to disguise the cause and location of death and to prevent any official record of the use of torture. By misrepresenting the circumstances of death in an effort to conceal detainee abuse, government authorities have bolstered a system of widespread and systematic torture and unlawful killing.
Deaths in detention
32. Since the unrest in Syria began, the Government has arrested and detained thousands. As detailed in this and previous reports, many are taken into and moved among Government detention facilities, including its intelligence and security agencies, and its prisons. Most detainees held longer than a matter of weeks are eventually transferred to detention facilities in Damascus and Rif Damascus governorates. In these facilities, consistent reports of deaths of detainees held in Government custody have most frequently been documented.
33. In this reporting period, multiple, consistent accounts of the deaths of detainees have been recorded in Air Force Intelligences branches at Mezzeh Military Airport and Harasta; Military Security branches 215 (Raids branch), 227 (Damascus regional branch) and 235 (Palestine branch); and Sednaya prison.
34. Most accounts of deaths come from the deceased’s cellmates or former detainees. In some cases, family members were informed of the deaths and received the bodies of their relatives. In every case where a body was returned, it bore marks of severe torture.
35. People died in custody as a result of acts and omissions on the part of the Government authorities. Some are killed while being tortured in interrogation sessions or during beatings by prison guards in the cells. In some cases, detainees are returned to the cells with life-threatening injuries to which they soon succumb.
36. Injuries sustained as a result of torture became fatal due to the victims’ receiving little or, more often, no medical treatment. In other instances, detainees had pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, asthma or high blood pressure. The lack of medical care, coupled with the conditions of detention, led to easily preventable deaths of detainees.
37. The severe overcrowding and squalid conditions of detention have led to inmates’ becoming extremely ill – chronic diarrhoea and skin infections were often reported. The lack of medical treatment, access to toilet and shower facilities, adequate food and potable water led to the physical weakening and eventual death of detainees. Some detainees who lost substantial body weight, had on-going injuries and were still undergoing torture in interrogations and while detained in cells did not have the physical stamina required to continue to survive inside Government detention centres.
38. There has been an increase in reports of family members being informed by the Government of the death of their relatives. Multiple interviewees stated that they had been directed to Tishreen Military Hospital in Barzah (Damascus) to collect a death certificate, and occasionally their relative’s identification documents. The death certificates often indicate that the detainee died of “cardiac arrest” or “stroke”.
39. Most families who receive death certificates did not receive the body. In response to inquiries, Government authorities occasionally reportedly stated that the deceased had already been buried. Some relatives of victims were told that bodies are buried in a mass grave in Najha cemetery (Rif Damascus). Other than the death certificate, families received no further documentation or proof that the victim died.
40. In late December 2013, a man was called for interrogation at a local intelligence office in Damascus city and subsequently disappeared. A family member heard from a detainee who had been held at branch 215, that the man had also been detained and had died there after being tortured. The family visited a security branch in Damascus in late 2014 and received a death certificate issued by Tishreen Military Hospital. The death certificate was dated in early October 2014 and stated that the relative had died in mid-July 2014. The cause of death was listed as ’cardiac arrest’. The family never received the body. The family of a man arrested during the Government attack on Hosh Arab (Rif Damascus) was held in branch 227. His family received his death certificate from Tishreen Military Hospital in May 2014, but did not receive the body.
41. In mid-2014, a doctor was transferred from a detention facility in Damascus to Air Force Intelligence in Mezzeh Military Airport where he was held until October. While there, he witnessed the deaths of five other inmates. Two detainees died of pre-existing medical conditions, aggravated by the conditions of detention and the lack of any medical care. In both instances, the detainee informed the prison guards that the men were dying but this elicited no response. In the case of the other deaths, the men had been severely tortured and later died. Bodies remained in the cells for hours, sometimes overnight, before being removed by the guards.
42. A female detainee held in branch 235 between April and August 2014 witnessed male inmates being tortured. She also saw emaciated men being returned to their cells from interrogations. During her detention, she saw four bodies being removed from the cells.
43. A women’s husband and three sons were arrested by Government forces in town in Rif Damascus in December 2013. She made attempts to locate them through official channels but received no response. Their whereabouts were unknown until former detainees informed her that they were being held in branch 235. Several months later, the Military Police in her town informed her that her husband had died in custody. They were directed to the Al-Qaboun Military Police in Damascus where they received her husband’s ID card and a death certificate from Tishreen Military Hospital, stating her husband had died of a heart attack. In the months that followed, she received the IDs and deaths certificates for two of sons from Al-Qaboun Military Police. The death certificates were stamped as originating from Tishreen Military Hospital. She was not permitted to receive the bodies and was not informed of the place of burial. Despite continuing efforts, she does not know the whereabouts of her remaining son.
44. There were multiple accounts of detainees dying in Sednaya prison (Rif Damascus) in 2014. One detainee, released during this reporting period, witnessed the deaths of two cellmates in February and March 2014 respectively. Both detainees died following severe beatings with metal bars and cables by prison guards inside the cell. The corpses of the deceased remained in the cell for several hours before being removed by the guards. Another detainee held in Sednaya and released in July 2014, described a cellmate dying after being left on the ground bleeding after a beating by prison guards. The same detainee saw several detainees pass away between March and June 2014 after being extremely ill, with severe diarrhoea. Another detainee, also detained in Sednaya during this time, described the death of several other detainees in similar circumstances.
45. In many instances, families who were informed of the deaths of their relatives never discovered where they had been held. In late 2013, intelligence officers detained several students at a university in Damascus. In the case of one student, the family attempted unsuccessfully to locate him. In October 2014, officers at branch 235 told the father to go to Tishreen Military Hospital, where he received his son’s identification card and death certificate.
46. The practice of producing official death certificates appears to be growing, but is not consistent. It is apparent that the certificates are issued in order to misrepresent the causes of death and conceal detainee abuse. Many families simply do not know what has happened to their relatives after their initial arrest by Government forces or abduction by pro-Government militia. Such incidents amount to enforced disappearances.
E. Torture and other forms of ill-treatment
1. Government forces
129. Since the start of the unrest in Syria in March 2011, Government forces, notably agents of its security and intelligence agencies, have tortured and ill-treated men, women and children in their custody.
130. Numerous interviews concerning the treatment of detainees between 10 July 2014 and 10 January 2015 further evidence earlier factual and legal findings made by the Commission. Most accounts come from torture survivors.
133. Almost all interviewees who had been detained in Government facilities detailed being tortured and held in horrific conditions. Most were civilians who had also been beaten from the point of arrest or abduction – usually at checkpoints – to their arrival at the detention centres. With the exception of those kept in solitary confinement, all had witnessed the torture of other detainees. As detailed above, several witnessed the deaths of cellmates and/or saw bodies of detainees in other areas of the facilities. Many bear physical and psychological scars.
134. In this reporting period, the majority of accounts of torture and ill-treatment occurred in detention centres in Damascus and Rif Damascus governorates, most particularly in Military Security branches 215 (Raids branch), 235 (also known as Palestine branch), 227 (Damascus regional branch), 248 and 291 (Investigations branches); Air Force Intelligence branch in Mezzeh military airport; in Mezzeh Military Hospital 601 and Tishreen Military Hospital; and in Sednaya prison. Branches 248, 291 and 293 are housed in the same facility in Kafr Sousa.
135. Former detainees also reported being tortured in Government detention facilities and prisons in Aleppo, Dara’a, and Hama governorates. Torture was also recorded as having occurred at a facility run by the Government’s paramilitary group, the National Defence Force in the Al-Joura neighbourhood of Dayr az Zawr city between May and October 2014.
136. Methods of torture remained consistent across time and governorates. In this reporting period, former detainees described being beaten on the head, bodies and soles of feet with wooden and metal sticks, hoses, cables, belts, whips, and wires. Detainees were also sexually assaulted; given electric shocks, including to their genitals; burnt with cigarettes; and were placed in stress positions for prolonged periods of time. A substantial number of male detainees reported having their hands handcuffed behind their backs and then being suspended by their wrists from the ceiling or a wall for hours. Detainees emphasised that they were beaten not only during interrogations, but also in the cells by the prison guards.
137. While the majority of interviews concerned the treatment of male detainees, female detainees also reported being severely beaten, sexually assaulted and given electric shocks.
138. In May 2014, a member of the medical staff at a field hospital in Rif Damascus was arrested during an attack by Government forces. He was taken to Air Force Intelligence in Mezzeh military airport where he was held until late 2014. He described being stripped to his underwear and placed in a very overcrowded, lice-infested cell. He and his cellmates were given little food. He was whipped. Interrogators then forced his limbs into a car tyre and beat him severely.
139. Another man, who had worked in a field hospital in an armed-group controlled area in the east of the country, was arrested by military intelligence in Damascus city in June 2014 and taken to branch 215. Accused of terrorism, he reported being beaten, kicked, suspended from the ceiling by his wrists, burnt with cigarettes and electrocuted. Another man, also held at branch 215 at the time and not released until December 2014, described being tortured and held in an overcrowded cell.
140. In June 2014, a man was transferred from another detention facility in Damascus to branch 235. He was beaten during the transfer by his guards. During his interrogation, he was beaten unconscious and, later, his thumbprint placed on a document he was not able to read.
141. In Aleppo governorate, while one man was held at an intelligence agency from April to late July 2014, he witnessed other detainees being severely beaten and heard a female detainee being beaten.
142. One woman, held in branch 227 in mid-2014, stated that she was beaten and kicked during interrogations during twice weekly interrogations over a three-month period. She reported that authorities used electric shocks on at least two other detainees. She was released after her family paid a bribe to the facility’s authorities. A woman, released from branch 235 in August 2014 stated that women were beaten there.
143. Former detainees stated that they would try to avoid transfer to Mezzeh (601) or Tishreen military hospitals because the torture and ill-treatment of patients at these facilities was notorious. One detainee held in Sednaya from 2012 to mid-2014 stated his cellmate had been transferred to Hospital 601 and was severely beaten there.
144. In February 2014, one detainee was transferred from an intelligence agency in Damascus city to Sednaya prison where he was held until late 2014. The guards beat and kicked him and the other detainees being taken to Sednaya. He describes prison guards entering the cells and severely beating, kicking, and stepping on him and the other detainees. In one such attack, the interviewee stated he was beaten unconscious and sustained a broken shoulder and several fractured ribs.
145. Government authorities in intelligence and security agencies as well as prisons committed sexual torture against male and female detainees. This included sexual assaults, electrocutions of the genitals and the threats of rape being made to the detainee or of his/her female family members.13
146. The above conduct was perpetrated by both prison guards and interrogators and was often designed to elicit confessions from the detainee. Some former detainees stated that, under torture, they were made to give names of other civilians who they would falsely indicate were involved in opposition activities. These names were reportedly used to effect further arbitrary arrests. Beating and other physical abuse by prison guards, often occurring inside the cells, appeared designed to humiliate and punish those held in Government custody.
147. In this reporting period, conditions of detention continue to be characterised by a lack of food, water, space, sleep, hygiene and medical care and denial of life saving medicine. Detainees are held in severely overcrowded cells, often with little light and with limited access to toilet facilities. Many described having to sleep in shifts as there was insufficient room for all the detainees to lie down at the same time. Many of those held were not able to shower for months at a time. Detainees routinely described cells as being infested with lice and other insects. In such circumstances, infections from injuries sustained from torture by prison guards and interrogators were common, and sometimes, fatal.
148. Those held in Government detention facilities and prisons often received little or no medical treatment. Inadequate food was provided, with some detainees reporting a loss of over a third of their body weight while held in custody. Few detainees ever saw a lawyer, were ever charged or ever appeared in court.
149. One detainee, held in Sednaya prison until late 2014, stated that he was detained in a cell so overcrowded that he and his cellmates took turns standing, sitting and sleeping. Cells were without light and infested with insects, including lice. They did not have access to a shower while imprisoned there. They received no medical care and very little food. Other detainees, held in Sednaya earlier in 2014 provided consistent accounts of dirty, unhygienic conditions in the cells and detainees suffering malnutrition and infections, which went untreated.
150. A woman held in branch 235 during the reporting period stated that her cell was so overcrowded, the woman and girls held there had to sleep on their sides if they were all to lie down. They received little food. No sanitary napkins were provided. The failure of the Government authorities to provide sanitary products from female detainees was echoed by another female detainee in an unknown military security branch in Damascus earlier in 2014.
151. Children under the age of 18 years have been recorded as being held in Government custody and subjected to torture and ill-treatment.14 Placed in the cells with adults, they also suffered the same prisons conditions.
152. A man held in Air Force Intelligence in Mezzeh military airport until early October 2014 described being held in an overcrowded cell with children as young as 10 years old. A woman, held in Military Security branch 235 until August 2014 described being held in a small group cell with approximately 30 women, the youngest being 15 years old.
153. Torture and others forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment have been committed by the Syrian Government, in violation of its obligations under international human rights and international humanitarian law.
154. Severe pain has been inflicted on men, women and children held in Government detention centres. It was inflicted to extract information and to humiliate and punish. The physical violence described by former detainees – being suspended by the wrists or ankles, electrocution, kicking, beating (including on the soles of the feet) – have been found to constitute torture by various international tribunals and UN human rights bodies.
155. The Government has continued to perpetrate torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment as part of a widespread and systematic attack directed against a civilian population, indicating the existence of a State policy. The Government has therefore, as previously found, committed torture and other inhumane acts as crimes against humanity. This conduct is also prosecutable as the war crimes of torture and inhuman treatment.
156. The conditions of detention suffered by the men, women and children held in Government custody constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and may, in themselves, rise to such a level as to constitute torture.
157. The Government continues to commit these crimes with impunity. Members of intelligence agencies and their military and civilian superiors failing to prevent and punish these crimes can be held individually criminally liable for the conduct described above.
[Sexual and gender-based violence]
174. Men and boys who are considered to be of ’fighting-age’ through the policies and acts of Government forces and affiliated militia, have been subjected to physical and psychological violence on the basis of their gender. Perceived as likely to participate in hostilities against the Government or aid armed groups, men and boys have been arrested, tortured, disappeared, and killed on grounds of suspected affiliation or loyalty. With their freedom of movement constrained due to the constant fear of apprehension at Government checkpoints, men and boys have been forced to remain in zones of active hostilities. Sexual violence and torture is commonly employed against male detainees in Government detention facilities as an interrogation tactic, to degrade and humiliate.
175. Material collected further corroborates previous findings of sexual torture and rape being employed in Government detention facilities operated by security and intelligence agencies in Damascus. Torture methods such as the application of electric shocks to the genitals, were consistently and widely documented. Male detainees were subjected to sexual assault, sexual torture and rape in Branch 291 between June and October 2011, in Branch 215 between 2012 and 2013 and in June 2014. Rape and sexual violence was employed against men detained in Sednaya Prison, administered by the Military Police, in February 2013. Six documented incidents of rape and sexual torture used in the course of interrogations of male detainees in the Air Force Intelligence Branch in Mezzeh military airport between August 2011 and October 2014 were recorded. Male survivors of assaults described sexual torture employed at checkpoints between August 2011 and January 2012 and in January 2014. Detainees held in Mezzeh Prison and Hospital 601 were also threatened with rape in the course of their interrogations and torture.
176. Some female detainees were subject to sexual violence, including rape in Government detention facilities, in particular in the investigation branches of the Military Intelligence Directorate (commonly known as Military Security) located in Kafr Sousa (Damascus). Branches 248, 215 and 291 are located in the same building and contain holding cells underground. Documented incidents of female detainees being sexually assaulted and raped occurred in Branch 291 between June and October 2011, in Branch 215 between 2012 and 2013 and in 2014, and in three separate incidents in Branch 248 between April 2012 and June 2013. A woman was raped in the General Intelligence Branch 285 in Kafr Sousa in 2012.
177. A female detainee was sexually tortured in Branch 227 between April and June 2014. Sexual violence was also employed against female detainees at Air Force Intelligence branches, in Harasta between March and September 2012, and in Mezzeh military airport between May and October 2014.
178. Consistent accounts indicate that women held in detention facilities administered by the General Security Directorate in Damascus are subjected to sexual violence. Interrogators sexually assaulted detainees in the Al-Arbaieen Branch in April 2012. Incidents of female detainees being raped and sexually tortured in Branch 251 (Al-Khatib Branch) were documented as occurring in March 2011, between July and September 2012, and in March 2014.
179. Victim and witness accounts of rape and sexual violence employed as torture in the course of interrogations were also documented regarding incidents in Mezzeh Prison between June and September 2011 and December 2013 and May 2014, in particular the application of electric shocks to genitals, in Branch 235 (Palestine Branch) in 2013, and at the Criminal Security Branch in Bab Mosala in March 2013.
180. In Dara’a governorate, women faced sexual violence from Government authorities in custodial environments. Interviewees described being threatened with sexual assault in the Criminal Security Branch in Izrah, subjected to rape at a checkpoint before being taken to the Military Security Branch in Dara’a city in 2013, and sexual torture employed in detention facilities in Jasim and Dara’a city in 2014.
181. Victim and witness accounts of sexual violence were also recorded in northern governorates. During house searches in Aleppo city in 2012 and 2013, Government forces sexually assaulted women and men in their homes. In 2013, detainees were raped in the Political Security branch and sexual assaulted at the Military Security branch in Latakia.
182. Violations of physical integrity through the use of torture and ill-treatment and sexual violence, including rape, by Syrian State officials, amounting to severe and systematic violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. Syrian government authorities have manifestly failed to protect male and female detainees from sexual harassment, sexual torture, rape and sexual violence in prisons and detention facilities in Damascus, administered by and under the control of the military, intelligence and security agencies. Survivors and witnesses emphasised the long-lasting physical and psychological repercussions of sexual violence.
183. Many women and men, including minors, have been victims of the deliberate use of sexual humiliation, sexual torture and rape while in the custody of Government authorities throughout the span of the unrest and conflict in Syria (from 2011 – 2014). Rape and other forms of sexual violence, amounting to serious violations of international humanitarian law, war crimes and crimes against humanity, entail individual criminal responsibility for the direct perpetrators of crimes and their authors at the highest levels of the chain of command, including the highest levels of Government.
195. Intelligence and security agencies continued to detain young children together with adults, exposing them to sexual violence and subjecting them to the same ill-treatment and torture as adult detainees. In detention, children also witness violent torture and death. The presence of children was documented in Military Security Branch 235, known as the Palestine Branch, and in the Air Force Intelligence Branch in Mezzeh military airport (Damascus), detention facilities in which torture is systematically employed. A 16-year-old girl was subjected to sexual violence in Military security Branch 248 in Kafr Sousa in Damascus in 2012 and 2013. A 5-year-old child who had been detained and tortured with his mother in several different Government detention facilities, including Branch 248 in Kafr Sousa, suffered severe distress, nightmares, and experienced problems urinating for months afterward. A 16-year-old boy, who was detained and tortured at the National Defense Forces Branch in Al-Joura neighbourhood in Dayr az Zawr, described being held together with at least five other young boys, most of whom were younger than he. They were placed inside a tyre and beaten and hung up for prolonged periods of time.
196. (…) In detaining children and exposing them to ill-treatment and torture in detention facilities, Syrian authorities, including the military, security and intelligence agencies, have violated children’s human rights and the rules of international humanitarian law, amounting to war crimes. They have perpetrated crimes against humanity, entailing individual criminal responsibility for the direct perpetrators of crimes and their authors at the highest levels of the chain of command, including the highest levels of Government.
10th report – 13 August 2015 (A/HRC/30/48)
51. Government forces have arrested female lawyers, journalists and peace activists and those expressing anti-Government sentiments. Women have also been detained in order to force the surrender of male relatives suspected of fighting with, or otherwise supporting, anti-Government armed groups.
52. Female detainees are imprisoned in squalid, insect-infested cells and subjected to torture and inhuman treatment, as detailed in Section F. Medical care, if available at all, is inadequate. In particular, no care is taken to address women’s distinct medical and physiological needs.
53. Women have suffered rape and other forms of sexual violence by Government personnel while held in detention facilities. Sexual assault has also been committed by Government forces at checkpoints. That women can move more freely than men in Government-held areas has increased their vulnerability to physical and sexual assault, by Government forces and by criminal elements within the civilian population.
72. Boys considered to be of fighting age continue to be held at Government checkpoints. Once held, children are imprisoned with adults and tortured in Government detention centres. They suffer the same inhumane conditions of detention as described in Section F. The presence of male and female detainees as young as 11 was recorded in Security Branches 227, 235, 248 and 215 in Damascus. Children have been tortured and the rape of minors was reported in Branches 235 and 215.
90. Men, women and children detained in the Syrian Arab Republic by various actors have been subjected to unlawful killing, severe torture and other forms of ill-treatment.
91. Nowhere are these violations more widespread and systematic than in detention centres of the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic. Over 600 former detainees – held in intelligence agencies and prisons – have been interviewed since August 2011. Almost all have been victims and or witnesses of torture. Many have been present at the death of cellmates.
92. An untold number of people, mainly adult men, have died while detained, as a result of torture or poor living conditions inflicted upon the prison population. Authorities consistently fail to order investigations into credible allegations of torture and custodial deaths. Four years into the Syrian conflict, it is evident that the Government is responsible for the deaths of detainees on a massive scale.
93. Systematic patterns of torture were documented in Military Security branches 215, 227 and 235, Air Force Intelligence in Mezzeh military airport, and other detention facilities run by the Military Intelligence Directorate, the Air Force Intelligence Directorate, the General Intelligence Directorate, the Political Security Directorate and the armed forces. Detainees are held in overcrowded, dirty cells and are not given adequate food or medical care, even for life-threatening conditions.
94. Many detainees reported being subjected to prolonged suspension from their arms, resulting in paralysis of limbs. One prisoner witnessed detainees hung by their wrists from trees in a detention facility controlled by the 4th Division in Damascus. Detainees were frequently subjected to electrocution, including of genitals and other sensitive areas, and prolonged and severe beating with objects. In February, a man held in a State-controlled facility in Qamishli witnessed regular torture of emaciated fellow detainees.
95. Male detainees were frequently subjected to sexual violence, including rape. In 2014, a commander in General Intelligence Directorate’s Al-Khatib Branch subjected a male detainee to repeated sexual abuse, including rape. Female detainees were also raped and sexually assaulted while in Government detention.
156. Journalists continue to be systematically targeted by Government forces for documenting and disseminating information perceived to be supportive of the opposition or disloyal to the Government. Large numbers of journalists are still detained in Government-controlled detention centres, where they are subjected to disappearance and torture. An unknown number have died in detention.
168. Government forces have directed attacks against the civilian population. The attacks have included widespread shelling and bombardment of civilian-inhabited localities and the targeting of civilians for arrest, detention and disappearance on the basis of their association or perceived opposition to the Government. As part of this widespread attack on the civilian population, in accordance with State policy, Government forces have perpetrated crimes against humanity of murder, extermination, torture, rape, enforced disappearance and other inhumane acts.