Syrian detainees: Non-negotiable issue
A statement by nearly 35 politicians and human rights activists and organisations calling for the immediate release of detainees, disclosing the fate of forcibly disappeared and holding accountable perpetrators and all those who aided and abetted torture and killing of detainees
Families of detainees have been attempting to know the fate of their loved ones who have been disappeared since the beginning of the Syrian Revolution in 2011. On the other hand, the international community seems satisfied with its shameful silence and continues to abdicate all responsibilities regarding reaching a political settlement based on the Resolution 2254 of 2015, which stipulates the release of all detainees who have been arbitrarily arrested by regime forces and all military formations and rebel factions operating in Syria. Several local and international campaigns have already highlighted the plight of the detainees’ families, calling upon the international community to break the deadlock and solve this contentious and troubling issue.
Sadly, some actors managed to use this humanitarian cause as a bargaining chip. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) has been all along stressing that the release of detainees and disclosure of the fate of forcibly disappeared individuals must not be open to negotiations by the warring powers in Syria. The freedom of political prisoners, whose only guilt is that they have opposed the policy of tyrannical regimes and sought to peaceful transition of power, is unquestionably above negotiations.
It seems that “Caesar Act,” which was ratified by the US Senate in 2019 and came into force in 2020, has failed so far to put an end to the ongoing arbitrary arrests and violations against innocent civilians, although the plethora of documented facts, statistics and figures related to the violations committed against detainees. Also, the shocking pictures leaked by “Caesar” have not been used as evidence against criminals and perpetrators, so that they are brought to justice, regardless of linking this matter to the presence of a transitional authority working on holding perpetrates accountable and releasing detainees.
This issue must not be subjected to the narrow interests of the conflicting powers in Syria, and the plight of over 105,000 people who were killed, executed and/or died under torture in regime prisons, which according to SOHR statistics, over 83% of whom were killed and/or died in these prisons between May 2013 and October 2015, the period when the Iranians were supervising regime’s prisons, must be highlighted.
Among the total toll, SOHR has been able to document by names over 49,000 civilians dying under torture in regime prisons since the beginning of the Syrian Revolution, including 339 children under the age of eighteen and 64 women over the age of eighteen.
The Syrian Observatory has documented horrific stories told by survivors of prisons in all areas of influence throughout Syria, where they suffered from mental, physical and psychological disorders due to the torture and humiliation they endured for years.
Humiliation, oppression and use of violence have started to escalate with the first spark of the Syrian Revolution, where the peaceful protests triggered millions of Syrians to take to the streets to call for freedom, democracy and indiscriminating treatment of all constituents and segments of Syrian society. During the demonstrations, the Syrian people have expressed their desire to enjoy fundamental rights, such as the right to life. This right is enshrined in Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which recognises the individual’s “inherent right to life” and requires it to be protected by law. Accordingly, this right must not be violated under any conditions, even in time of public emergency. This right is also enshrined in Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948. This right is the base of all other human rights.
It is time for the international community, which has taken no action against the violations to all concepts of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to condemn all reprehensible practices by all powers engaged into Syria war and intensify its efforts to stop the oppression against the detainees and handle this cause more seriously. It is also time to disclose all heinous crimes committed in all prisons across Syria, the Syrian regime’s notorious prisons in particular, especially since Syria is still witnessing daily incidents of prisoners dying under torture. Such practices will never reach an end, unless:
- Real and serious pressure is exerted by international and regional powers with the aim of dispatching and allwoing delegations of human rights and civilian Syrian and international organisations to inspect prisons.
- Observers are tasked with making detailed reports about the situation of detainees.
- Holding accountable all perpetrators responsible for oppression and stifling free voices, and bringing them to justice.
It is worth noting that the issue of torturing, humiliating and killing detainees is not a by-product of the war in Syria, as such practices were documented widely during the rule of Hafez Al-Assad.
We, the human rights activists and organisations, are required to break the barriers of fear and hesitation, and encourage survivors of prisons to talk about their bitter experiences and disclose the inhumane practices they have endured.
Also, we would like to highlight the incidents of sexual violence and abuse against Syrian women who have fallen victims to inhumane efforts to disperse the segments of Syrian society, as well as cruel beating, electrocution and humiliation. All these practices have been aimed at intimidating and terrorising an entire generation of Syrian people and undermining its will in order to force it to acquiesce to tyrannical polices which dramatically led Syria to definite destruction.
We have been all along condemning the arrest of politicians and warning against its repercussions. Today, the state does not hesitate when it comes to arresting everybody opposing its policy, throwing them into small cells with a width of no more three metres containing tens of detainees who can find no place for sleeping or standing. Every detainee later is transported to a solitary cell where he/she receives all methods of torture, including the pouring of boiling water, extraction of fingernails, burning of skin and hanging. All these methods, which come as a part of the policy of psychological torture and humiliating human dignity, are used to force detainees to confess to crimes they have not committed.
As human rights organisations and patriotic Syrian activists believing in the sanctity of the dignity of all human beings and absolute freedom, it is our duty to condemn the ongoing silence and inaction by the international community regarding the issue of detainees in Syria. We, the signatories below, call upon the international community to:
- Seriously handle the issue of detainees and activate UN resolutions related to this issue.
- Form UN committees and task them with visiting prisons to check the situations of detainees.
- Bring the Syrian regime’s president and cronies close to ruling class to international courts before the end of the conflict to ensure that there is no impunity, the concept which UN institutions work on enhancing.
- Entrust human rights Syrian authorities concerned with the issue of detainees to prepare reports about the detainees’ situation and communicate with international powers to negotiate with them.
- Hold an UN-led international conference to set the basic steps needed to break the deadlock of this issue and disclose the fate and whereabouts of detainees and forcibly disappeared.
- Demand the Syrian regime disclose the real number of detainees and torture victims.
- Keep the issue of detainees away form political exploitation and stopping using the issue to gain advantages and benefits.
- Bring to justice the perpetrators of “Al-Tadamon massacre,” which was a golden chance for the Syrian opposition to encourage the international community, which condemned this heinous crime, to positively handle the issue of detainees.
- Appeal to the United Nations to issue decisions stipulating the immediate release of detainees and forcibly disappeared in Syria through exerting pressure by local and international authorities.
- Work on putting an end to all violations and practices leading to the arbitrary arrest of innocent civilians.
- Intensify efforts to highlight the inhumane situation of detainees through media releases and public forums and meetings with the aim of exerting pressure leading to unconditional release of detainees.
1- The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR)
2- Hassan Abdel Azim, the leader of the National Coordination Body (NCB)
3- Laila Awad, a Syrian actress and director
4- Ezdina Society
5- Ali Issu, a human rights activist
6- Ghiath Kanao, the managing editor of Euro-Syria newspaper – Germany
7- Omar Al-Habbal, a lawyer
8- Bassam Al-Ahmad, a member of Syrians for Truth
9- Hussein Naasu, a member of the Kurdish legal committee
10- Salah Alamdar, a Syrian politician
11- Dr. Muhammad Salih Ibrahim, a civil and human rights activist
12- Yasser Al-Badawi, a Syrian regime opponent
13- Habib Haddad, the former minister of information
14- Jihan Khalaf, a journalist and feminist activist
15- Yahya Aziz, a member of the National Coordination Body (NCB)
16- Wedad Noah, a human rights activist
17- Dr. Juwar Mohammed Saleh Ibrahim, a human rights and civil activist
18- Mofeda Al-Khateeb, a politician
19- Ahmed Tamer Bakkar, the brother of a detainee called Mahmoud Tamer Bakkar
20- Hassan Mustafa Shobak, a civil activist
21- Mahmoud Al-Suwaid, a civil activist
22- Rana Khedr Bakkar, the sister of a detainee called Mahmoud Khedr Bakkar
23- Fatima Zuhri Baliqa, the sister of a detainee called Khaled Zuhri Baliqa
24- Fadi Shabat, a media activist
25- Raqyah Al-Sha’er, a feminist and civil activist
26- Abdullah Haj Muhammad, the Secretary General of the Syrian Democratic Left Party
27- Yasser Al-Hassan, a teacher and a revolutionary and civil activist
28- Basil Al-Jalali, the brother of a detainee called Ahmed Muhammad Al-Jalali, the son of a detainee called Muhammad Rakkad Al-Jalali and the nephew of detainees Ali Rakkad Al-Jalali and Hilal Rakkad Al-Jalali
29- Zakaria al-Qarqa’i, a former detainee
30- Amer Al-Qarqa’I, a former detainee
31- Fatima Suleiman, a civic activist
32- Ahmed Mazhar Saado, a journalist and Syrian regime opponent
33- Hajar Al-Hajj Ahmed Abdelaziz Naasan, a human rights activist and she is the only survivor of prisons among her family
34- Muhammad Saad Eddin, a journalist
35- Samira Z’air, member of the coordination and monitoring committee in the Syrian Women’s Network
36- Syrian Women’s Network
37- Ossama Ashour, a civil activist and politician