Syria: Visit Reveals Torture Chambers
Human Rights Watch
17 May 2013
Government security branches in Raqqa city hold documents and potential physical evidence indicating that detainees were arbitrarily detained and tortured there while the city was under government control. Human Rights Watch researchers visited the State Security and Military Intelligence facilities in Raqqa, now under the de facto control of local armed opposition groups, in late April 2013.
Local opposition leaders with the support of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces and neutral international experts should safeguard potential evidence of torture and arbitrary detention in security forces centers in opposition-controlled areas, Human Rights Watch said.
“The documents, prison cells, interrogation rooms, and torture devices we saw in the government’s security facilities are consistent with the torture former detainees have described to us since the beginning of the uprising in Syria,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Those in control of Raqqa need to safeguard the materials in these facilities so the truth can be told and those responsible held accountable.”
In the State Security facility, Human Rights Watch researchers observed on the ground floor and in the basement, rooms that appeared to be detention cells.Among the documents were what appeared to be lists of security force members who had worked there. (…)
Several former detainees held at other intelligence facilities in Syria have described to Human Rights Watch how security guards used “bsat al-reeh” torture devices in detention facilities across the country. They tie a detainee down to a flat board, sometimes in the shape of a cross, so that he is helpless to defend himself. In some cases, former detainees said guards stretched or pulled their limbs or folded the board in half so that their face touched their legs, causing pain and further immobilizing them.
(…) Researchers also observed three solitary confinement cells and one group detention cell in the right half of the first floor of the facility.
Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed five people formerly held by Military Intelligence in Raqqa, who said that security forces detained and interrogated them there. They said that the security services questioned them about lawful activities, such as participating in peaceful demonstrations, providing relief assistance to displaced families, defending detainees, and providing emergency assistance to injured demonstrators. They believed that they were detained for these lawful activities, making their detention arbitrary.
Four said that officers and guards in the facility tortured them (…)
Human Rights Watch has repeatedly documented widespread violations by Syrian government security forces and officials, including enforced disappearances, torture, and arbitrary and incommunicado detentions of peaceful protesters, activists, humanitarian assistance providers, and doctors.
Based on information from former detainees and defectors, Human Rights Watch previously identified the locations, agencies responsible, torture methods, and, in many cases, the commanders who were in charge of 27 detention facilities run by Syrian intelligence agencies across the country where torture has been documented. The systematic patterns of ill-treatment and torture that Human Rights Watch has documented point to a state policy of torture and ill-treatment and therefore constitute a crime against humanity. (…)
Documents and material in these facilities could vanish or be destroyed if not promptly secured. Destruction or mishandling of these documents and material will weaken the possibility of bringing to justice those responsible for serious crimes. In addition, their loss could encumber future truth seeking processes and prevent the comprehensive documentation of crimes committed by the Syrian government. (…)
Human Rights Watch has repeatedly urged the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Other countries should join the mounting calls for accountability by supporting a referral to the ICC as the forum most capable of effectively prosecuting those bearing the greatest responsibility for abuses in Syria. On January 14, a letter was sent to the Security Council on behalf of 58 countries calling for an ICC referral. The Security Council has taken no action in response.
“Learning the truth about the role intelligence services have played in spying on and terrorizing Syrians will enable them to guard against these abuses in the future,” Houry said. “But for Syrians to learn the truth once the conflict ends, it is vital even under the tough conditions of war to preserve the potential evidence of the security forces’ role.” (…)