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On the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture: SNHR Has Documented the Death of 15,383 Syrians Under Torture Since March 2011, with 157,287 Still Detained and/or Forcibly Disappeared

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Press release: (Download the full report below)

The Hague – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) today released its 13th annual report on torture in Syria, marking the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture which is observed on June 26 every year. These annual reports aim to shed light on the brutal torture practices, which have only grown worse since 2011 and to give some idea of the massive loss and devastation that have befallen the survivors who are still grappling with the traumatic effects of torture to this day. The report stresses that 15,383 deaths due to torture have been documented in Syria, since March 2011 up until June 2024, including of 199 children and 115 women (adult female).

The report notes that no fewer than 157,287 of the people arrested between March 2011 and June 2024, including 5,264 children and 10,221 women, are still imprisoned and/or forcibly disappeared in the various detention centers operated by the parties to the conflict and controlling forces in Syria. Of this total, at least 112,713, including 1,305 children and 6,698 women, are categorized as forcibly disappeared persons. The Syrian regime is responsible for 86 percent of these enforced disappearance cases.

The report also documents 15,383 deaths due to torture at the hands of the parties to the conflict and controlling forces in Syria since March 2011 up until June 2024, with the victims including 199 children and 115 women (adult female). Of this total, the Syrian regime has been responsible for 15,098 deaths, including of 190 children and 95 women, while ISIS has been responsible for 32 deaths, including of one child and 14 women. Meanwhile, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) has been responsible for 56 deaths, including of two children and one woman, whereas Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has been responsible for 105 deaths, including of three children and two women, in addition to 62 deaths at the hands of all armed opposition factions/Syrian National Army (SNA), including of one child and two women. Lastly, other parties have been responsible for 30 deaths, including of two children and one woman.

As the report further reveals, the Syrian regime is also responsible for the arrest of the largest proportion of Syrian citizens currently detained, with all detainees in regime detention centers being subjected to one or more forms of torture. Correspondingly, the Syrian regime has been responsible for by far the largest number of deaths due to torture, accounting for at least 98 percent of all deaths due to torture recorded. This staggeringly high number suggests that torture is a systematic, recurring, and widespread practice in regime detention centers which is used against tens of thousands of detainees. As such, it amounts to a crime against humanity. Additionally, the report notes that Homs and Daraa governorate are ranked first and second respectively as the two governorates from which the largest number of victims of death due to torture originally came. In this context, the Syrian regime has been known to direct torture against specific victims over their affiliation with anti-regime individuals or groups as a form of collective retaliation.

The report adds that no fewer than 1,632 of the people forcibly disappeared by the regime, including 24 children and 21 women as well as 16 medical personnel, have been registered as dead in the civil registry records since the start of 2018 up until June 2024. In all these cases, the causes of the victims’ death have not been disclosed, their bodies have not been returned to their families, and the deaths were not announced at the times they took place.

On another note, since early 2015, SNHR has identified 1,017 of about 6,786 victims who appeared in the photos leaked from regime military hospitals, known as the ‘Caesar Photos’. Of this total, 836 victims have already been documented on SNHR’s database.

The report stresses that the Syrian regime continues to breach the order issued by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), having taken no action to end torture in its detention centers. These findings are based on SNHR’s detailed daily monitoring of the international human rights violations taking place in regime detention centers, as well as of any arrests/detentions carried out by regime forces, in addition to analysis of the domestic articles of legislation that have been promulgated, repealed, or amended, and of any changes to the regime’s security structure, i.e., the bodies primarily responsible and implicated in committing violations against civilians in Syria. To that end, since the ICJ issued its order on November 16, 2023, up until May 16, 2024, SNHR has documented 534 arbitrary arrests, including of eight children and 21 women. Of these detainees who were arrested and placed in various regime detention centers, 63 were released, while the remaining 471 have been subsequently categorized as forcibly disappeared persons. Furthermore, in the same period, SNHR has documented 29 deaths due to torture in regime detention centers. Only one victim’s body was returned to their family, while all the other victims’ bodies have yet to be returned. Lastly, SNHR recorded that 14 forcibly disappeared persons have been registered as dead in the civil registry’s records. Among these cases were victims from the same families, political activists, and university students. In all the cases, the cause of death was not given, and the Syrian regime has not returned the victims’ bodies to their families or notified the families of their loved ones’ deaths at the time they took place.

The report also proves that all controlling forces in Syria have practiced torture against their opponents, and that those practices persist to this day. Furthermore, the report stresses that the Syrian regime has explicitly violated the Syrian Constitution and the UN Convention Against Torture which the regime ratified in 2004.

The report calls on the international community and the state parties to the UN Convention Against Torture to take the necessary action to establish its jurisdiction over perpetrators of torture, and to enact significant and serious punitive measures against the Syrian regime, in order to deter it from killing more Syrian civilians under torture. Pressure must also be applied on other parties to the conflict, through every avenue possible, to put a definitive end to the use of torture. The state parties to the Geneva Conventions must do far more to fight crimes against humanity and war crimes. Moreover, states that have the ability to invoke universal jurisdiction must make a far greater effort to launch cases against violation perpetrators on Syria on a wider scale.

The report also calls on the ICJ to issue a statement assessing the Syrian regime’s commitment to the provisional measures indicated by the Court, as eight months have now passed since the order was issued.

Meanwhile, the report calls on the parties to the conflict in Syria to abide by the principles of international human rights law and stop using torture against political or military opponents and extracting confessions under torture, while launching investigation into such crimes in order to hold their perpetrators accountable. Additionally, the report calls for compensating the families and the victims, as well as for the immediate and unconditional release of all arbitrarily arrested detainees, especially children and women, and the disclosure of the fate of tens of thousands of forcibly disappeared persons. The report also makes a number of additional recommendations.

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