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Wednesday / March 29.

Unravelling Syria’s death prisons

By Ramya Kannan 

A report released by Amnesty International has captured detailed instances of torture and violation in prison facilities in Syria. The report Human slaughterhouse: Mass hangings and extermination at Saydnaya prison, Syria presents disturbing accounts of the organised killing of close to 13,000 people between 2011 and 2015. These executions which primarily target civilians opposing the political regime are part of a secret campaign to exterminate, according to Amnesty International.

This is not the first time that the blatant violation of human rights in war-torn Syria has been brought to light.

This is not the first time that the blatant violation of human rights in war-torn Syria has been brought to light. The international community is shocked by the number of executions and the intensity of abuse. The report relies on interviews with former detainees, prison officials and guards. The prison facility, situated just north of Damascus, has become the site of inhuman treatment and torture practices sanctioned by the highest authorities in Syria.

Method in the madness

According to the report, the prisoners in the facility were presented before a kangaroo trial before they were executed. In Qaboun, a trial before a “military field court”  would last for merely three minutes and always end in conviction.

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IS prisons are understood to resemble those of the Syrian regime, with execution rates high. | Photo Courtesy: Alaraby

Irrespective of the prisoners’ admission of guilt, the verdicts were a foregone conclusion. The detainees were moved to a basement cell under the pretext of transfer to a civilian prison. Here beatings and torture were administered. During this period, the prisoners were relocated to a different part of the facility. They were then collectively hanged after being informed of their impending death. Those who failed to die were killed in other ways. According to the report groups of 20 to 50 were executed in the Saydnaya prison every week.  Bodies of the dead prisoners were then buried in mass graves.

The prison facility, situated just north of Damascus, has become the site of inhuman treatment and torture practices sanctioned by the highest authorities in Syria.

Most people imprisoned in Saydnaya prison were former military personnel who had shown signs of opposition to the Assad regime, or civilians actively supporting the unrest. They were regularly subjected to different forms of torture, ranging from deprivation of food to electrocution. These acts qualify as war crimes and crimes against humanity by Amnesty International.

It is a fact that death sentences are approved by either the defence minister or the army’s chief of staff.

Though numerous reports have highlighted the atrocities, death sentences in Syria continue to be arbitrarily carried out. It is a fact that death sentences are approved by either the defence minister or the army’s chief of staff. Therefore the government tacitly approves the same. 

Aftershock in Syria

After making the report public, Amnesty International announced that it will appeal to the United Nations to investigate and take action immediately. The brutal treatment of civilians and prisoners in Syria has received worldwide condemnation. World leaders have also publicly denounced the acts.

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Syria’s allies, which includes Russia, must come up with a solution. | Photo Courtesy: The Libertarian Republic

Syria’s allies, Russia and Iran should take responsibility to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice. However, given the frequency with which instances of violence in Syria are broadcast, and the sanctions placed by various powers at different points of time, there seems to be a larger anomaly.

It is a fact that death sentences are approved by either the defence minister or the army’s chief of staff. Therefore the government tacitly approves the same.

The executions are anything but isolated events undertaken by a specific set of people in power. Instead, they are reflective of the overarching violence and exploitation that systematically endangers people in Syria. This is only one among many reports on custodial deaths produced by Amnesty International. Since 2011 points to the complacency of the global community in dealing with the situation.


Featured Image Courtesy: Syrian Network for Human Rights
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