A Total of 15,281 Deaths Due to Torture and Medical Negligence Documented, Including 198 Children and 113 Women, As Torture Practices Continue in Syria With No Accountability for Those Involved
Press release: (Download the full report below)
The Hague – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) today released its 12th annual report on the practice of torture in Syria, marking the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. In the report, the group notes that a total of 15,281 deaths due to torture and medical negligence have been documented since 2011, including 198 children and 113 women, with torture practices continuing in Syria without any accountability for those involved.
Torture violations have continued for 12 years to date, with no accountability for those involved
The 45-page report sheds light on a large number of incidents of torture, and accounts by torture survivors and former prisoners, as well as incidents of death due to torture that have been documented in the last year, since June 26, 2022. The report notes that the phenomenon of torture is organically related to the process of arbitrary arrest and enforced disappearance, but is not restricted to those multi-faceted crimes. Today, over 155,000 people are still detained and/or forcibly disappeared at the hands of the parties to the conflict and controlling forces in Syria. The Syrian regime is responsible for 88 percent of all cases of enforced disappearance, with the overwhelming majority of these detainees being political prisoners who have been detained in the context of the popular uprising, all of whom have been subjected to one or multiple form(s) of torture for years. It is important to remember that there is no time limit or other limit to the torture inflicted on detainees, which starts from the very first moment after the victim’s arrest and which is carried out without any parameters that can be, even remotely, described as ‘legal’. What follows is endless suffering under the regime’s systemic and vast machinery of torture of various forms.
The report draws upon SNHR’s database, and its daily documentation efforts over the past year, including interviews with victims’ families, torture survivors and former prisoners released from the detention centers of the various parties to the conflict. To that end, this report contains 20 accounts, all of which have been obtained directly, rather than from second-hand sources. The figures included in this report are the outcome of a years-long process of daily monitoring and documentation since 2011 of incidents of arbitrary arrest and torture. The report categorizes the cases of death due to torture according to the victims’ governorate of origin in order to give a sense of the magnitude of loss and violence that each governorate has suffered compared to other governorates.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, SNHR Executive Director, says:
“This report comes at a time when some Arab states have decided to restore relations with the Syrian regime. We want this report to show those states and other states that the Syrian regime is still practicing the most horrendous methods of torture against women, children, and all arbitrarily detained victims, currently numbering approximately 136,000. Restoring relations with the Syrian regime before releasing detainees is giving the regime a green light to eliminate those detainees. It is well-known that the regime has an atrocious history involving the killing of thousands of political dissidents.”
Toll of torture victims between March 2011 and June 2023
The report documents the killing of 15,281 victims who died due to torture at the hands of the parties to the conflict and controlling forces in Syria between March 2011 and June 2023, including 198 children and 113 women (adult female). Of the 15,281 deaths due to torture, the Syrian regime is responsible for the killing of 15,039 individuals, including 190 children and 84 women, while ISIS is responsible for the killing of 32 victims, including one child and 14 women. Moreover, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) is responsible for the killing of 34 individuals, including two children, due to torture, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is responsible for the killing of 94 individuals, including two children and two women, and all armed opposition factions/Syrian National Army (SNA) is responsible for the killing of 53 individuals, including one child and two women. Finally, 29 individuals, including two children and one woman, died due to torture at the hands of other parties.
As the report confirms, the Syrian regime, which is responsible for the arrest of the largest proportion of Syrian citizens since 2011, is also still holding the largest proportion of detainees, as well as forcibly disappeared persons. In every case, torture continues for as long as the victim is in detention. The report also documents many cases in which the regime uses torture against a victim for their connection to an area with a well-known history of opposing the regime as a form of collective retaliation in their detention centers. The report records that the people of the two governorates of Homs and Daraa have experienced more bereavements as a result of deaths due to torture than any other governorate. The report also includes a running count of the toll of deaths due to torture in Syria since 2011.
Law No. 16 ‘The Law on Criminalizing Torture’, promulgated by the Syrian regime in March 2022, is meaningless
The report sheds light on Law No. 16, which was promulgated by the Syrian regime on March 30, 2022. The report stresses that, as SNHR predicted, this law has proven to be nothing more than empty words, and will do nothing to deter the regime’s security apparatus from its systemic practice of torture for long as the ruling regime’s other oppressive laws remain in effect, all of which provide the regime’s security apparatus with official impunity against prosecution, despite contradicting with many of the articles of the Syrian Penal Code and the current constitution. To make matters worse, the law lacks any genuine or clear mechanism that victims’ families and surviving torture victims could use to report the torture being inflicted or take legal action given the absolute hegemony of the regime’s security apparatus, and the absence of any guarantee of safety or protection for a complainant, such as ensuring they maintain anonymity or of any protection for witnesses, experts and their family members. Moreover, the report documents that no fewer than 48 individuals died due to torture at the hands of the Syrian regime between March 30, 2022, when Law No. 16 was passed, and June 2023. In addition, the report records many summons being issued by security forces in all Syria’s governorates to torture victims’ family members to bring them in for interrogation and order them not to publicize the news of their loved ones’ deaths, threatening them with arrest for failure to comply.
The report stresses that, according to international humanitarian law, leaders and higher-ranking officers are responsible for the war crimes committed by their subordinates. In this context, the report contains a new list of names involved in torture practices inside the main detention centers and the military units, drawing upon SNHR’s database on the perpetrators of violations. Relatedly, the report calls on the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (COI) to expose the names of individuals who have been conclusively identified as being involved in horrific violations that constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Finally, the report provides further confirmation that all controlling forces in Syria have used torture against their opponents, and that those practices continue to this day. Moreover, the report stresses that the Syrian regime has explicitly violated the texts of the Syrian Constitution, and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which Syria ratified in 2004. The Syrian regime has also manipulated and tampered with laws and legislative articles in order to shield its forces from any potential prosecution.
The report calls on the UN, including the Security Council, to devise a mechanism to oblige all parties to the conflict, especially the Syrian regime, to put an end to torture practices, and to disclose the locations of the victims’ bodies, and return these to their families. The report also calls on the international community to enact new punitive measures against the Syrian regime to deter it from killing Syrian citizens under torture, and to put pressure on the other parties to the conflict, through all means possible, and to put a true end to the use of torture, in addition to making other recommendations.