The 81-page HRW report, scheduled for release on July 3, “Torture Archipelago: Arbitrary Arrests, Torture and Enforced Disappearances in Syria's Underground Prisons since March 2011,” was based on the accounts of more than 200 interviews with former detainees and defectors.
The complete Human Rights Watch report, which includes maps of the detention centers, can be seen here: Torture centers and HRW report
The report includes maps locating the detention facilities, video accounts from former detainees and sketches of torture techniques described by numerous people who witnessed or experienced torture in these facilities.
“The intelligence agencies are running an archipelago of torture centers scattered across the country,” said Ole Solvang, emergencies researcher at HRW. “By publishing their locations, describing the torture methods and identifying those in charge, we are putting those responsible on notice that they will have to answer for these horrific crimes.”
Almost all the former detainees interviewed by HRW said they had been subjected to torture or witnessed the torture of others during their detention. Interrogators, guards and officers used a broad range of torture methods, including prolonged beatings, often with objects such as batons and cables, holding the detainees in painful stress positions for prolonged periods of time, the use of electricity, burning with acid, sexual assault and humiliation, the pulling of fingernails, and mock execution. There are more than 20 distinct torture methods used by the security and intelligence services, the HRW press release stated.
In the same press report, the HRW used the example from a 31-year-old detainee who was detained in Idlib province in June. The detainee described to HRW how the intelligence agencies tortured him in the Idlib Central Prison:
“They forced me to undress. Then they started squeezing my fingers with pliers. They put staples in my fingers, chest and ears. I was only allowed to take them out if I spoke. The staples in the ears were the most painful. They used two wires hooked up to a car battery to give me electric shocks. They used electric stun-guns on my genitals twice. I thought I would never see my family again. They tortured me like this three times over three days.”
While most of the torture victims interviewed by the HRW were young men between 18 and 35, the victims interviewed also included children, women and the elderly. The HRW research shows that the worst torture has taken place in detention facilities run by the country's four main intelligence agencies, commonly referred to collectively as the mukhabarat:
· The Department of Military Intelligence (Shu'bat al-Mukhabarat al-Askariyya);
· The Political Security Directorate (Idarat al-Amn al-Siyasi);
· The General Intelligence Directorate (Idarat al-Mukhabarat al-Amma); and
· The Air Force Intelligence Directorate (Idarat al-Mukhabarat al-Jawiyya).
Each of these four agencies maintains central branches in Damascus as well as regional, city and local branches across the country. In virtually all of these branches there are detention facilities of varying size.
“The individuals who carried out or ordered crimes against humanity bear individual criminal responsibility under international law, as do those in a position of command whose subordinates committed crimes that they were aware of or should have been aware of and failed to prevent or punish,” the HRW press release stated.
“This command responsibility would apply not only to the officials overseeing detention facilities, but also to the heads of intelligence agencies, members of government, and the head of state, President Bashar al-Assad,” it also stated.
HRW called on the United Nations Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and to adopt targeted sanctions against officials credibly implicated in the abuses. Because Syria has not ratified the Rome Statute, which created the ICC, the court will only have jurisdiction if the UNSC adopts a resolution referring the situation in Syria to the court.
The press statement also noted that Russia and China have previously blocked UNSC efforts to push for accountability.
“The reach and inhumanity of this network of torture centers are truly horrific,” Solvang said. “Russia should not be holding its protective hand over the people who are responsible for this.”
HRW's documentation of torture and ill-treatment includes specific agencies, name of the branch, city and head of branch, for example: Military Intelligence agencies, Branch 215 and Branch 227 in Damascus, led by Brig. Gen. Sha'afiq and Maj. Gen. Rustom Ghazali, respectively; Branch 245 in Daraa led by Col. Loaial-Ali; Branch 271 in Idlib led by Brig. Gen. Nawfel al-Hussein; Homs Branch led by Muhammad Zamreni; Air Force Intelligence in Latakia Branch led by Col. Suhail Al-Abdullah; and General Intelligence Branch 285 in Damascus led by Brig. Gen. Ibrahim Ma'ala, replaced Brig. Gen. HussamFendi late last year.