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Syria war: Tens of thousands of detainees still missing, UN says

Activists hold portraits of detained or missing Syrians at a demonstration in Paris, France, organised by "Families for Freedom" (27 January 2018)

Syria war: Tens of thousands of detainees still missing, UN says.

Tens of thousands of civilians are still missing after being detained arbitrarily during 10 years of war in Syria, UN investigators say.

Thousands more are tortured or killed in custody, consistent with a replacement report detailing alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity by all parties.Journalists take pictures of abandoned prison cells formerly used by rebel fighters in the former rebel-held Syrian town of Douma on the outskirts of Damascus (19 April 2018)

Victims and witnesses described “unimaginable suffering”, including the rape of women and boys as young as 11.

The issue may be a “national trauma” that has got to be addressed, the report says.

Syria has been devastated by a conflict that erupted after President Bashar al-Assad’s government responded with deadly force to peaceful anti-government protests in March 2011.

The fighting has left a minimum of 380,000 people dead and caused half the population to escape their homes, including almost six million refugees abroad.
The report by the UN Human Rights Council’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria was supported quite 2,650 interviews and investigations into quite 100 detention facilities. It documents violations by almost every major party to the war that were apparently intended to intimidate and punish perceived opponents.

“The government forces’ arbitrary detention of political opponents, journalists, human rights activists and demonstrators were both a root cause and a trigger of the conflict,” the commission’s chairman, Paulo Pinheiro, said.

Armed groups and UN-designated terrorist organizations like [Hayat Tahrir al-Sham] and [the Islamic State group] then also started depriving people of their liberty, committing heinous violations against them, often with sectarian undertones.”
Former detainees described not seeing daylight for months, being forced to drink unclean water and eat mouldy food, sharing overcrowded cells without a rest room with many people , and being denied medical aid .Former Syrian intelligence officer Eyad al-Gharib holds up a file in court in Koblenz, Germany (24 February 2021)

Those who were allegedly tortured or subjected to cruelty in government-run prisons told investigators of a minimum of 20 different methods employed by security personnel to extract false confessions.

These included administering electric shocks, the burning of body parts, pulling off nails and teeth, and hanging people from one or two limbs for prolonged periods.

“They tortured me…, then the interrogator told me: ‘We can kill you here and now, nobody will ever know’,” recalled a person held by the govt in Homs.
Survivors of torture described how they continued to suffer chronic physical pain and severe emotional suffering or post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I cannot live without diapers. I suffer from severe pain everywhere my body. there’s no hope on behalf of me . My life is totally ruined,” said a lady who alleged that she was tortured and raped at Military Security and Military Intelligence branches in Homs and Damascus.

The report also says detainees were frequently tortured at facilities travel by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the jihadist alliance that dominates the last opposition stronghold in Syria.

Several men described being forced to strip naked, electrocuted on their genitals and raped. Female detainees reported being threatened with rape, and one woman was raped at a checkpoint in Hama.

Investigators were also told about the killings of detainees without trial, or following what the commission said were unfair trials within the government’s counter-terrorism and field military courts or makeshift proceedings by opposition armed groups.

The exact number of detainees who have died in detention is unknown. But conservative estimates say tens of thousands of people are killed while in government custody, consistent with the report.

Multiple sources indicate that, following the registration of deceased detainees at military hospitals, the bodies were buried in various mass graves, including two on the outskirts of Damascus, the report says.

The government and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham have denied torturing prisoners.

“Hundreds of thousands of relations have a right to the reality about their loved ones’ fate,” Mr Pinheiro said. “This may be a national trauma that must be urgently addressed by action from the parties and therefore the international community.”

The commission of inquiry is urging all countries to pursue accountability for the crimes, pointing to last week’s ground-breaking verdict in Germany, where a former Syrian agency security official was found guilty of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity.

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