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Five thousand people die in Syrian government prisons during field executions and torture; numbers are increasing

Editing: Mohamad Alaa |
TranslationEditor: Farah Nassif |
Translation: Glory Jabr


Turkey - SMART

The Syrian government sends families notifications that their sons were killed in its prisons, either as a result of field execution or torture. The number of killed detainees has reached 5,000 thousand, and the Syrian government is still sending new lists of victims'. 

The director of Nophotozone, which is in charge of arbitrary arrest and forced disappearance, Noura Safadi, told SMART that they documented 4,000 thousand victims, not including the list from the city of Darya (1,000  thousand victims). She stated that the number of victims could not be precisely defined.

The Syrian government’s mechanism to reveal the killed detainees in its prisons

The Syrian government delivers the news of the prison detainees' deaths in two ways. For prisoners who were tortured to death, death certificates are issued and distributed by the Directorates-General of Census, local mayors or the military police. According to Safadi, the families who are notified of the death of their sons, they should complete the formalities and issue death papers, Even if parents prove they their sons are alive, they should be convinced of what the government is doing and complete the death papers (certificate)

Reporting the executions happens differently. There is a secret correspondence between the field court and the civil status departments. The court sends a secret book to the civil department to carry out the death proceedings, and the families know that their son/daughter died through their status record.

The Syrian government covers up the real cause of detainees’ deaths. It often says that they died due to health reasons such as shortness of breath or heart attack, to protect itself and diminish the evidence against it. However, according to international humanitarian law, the government is responsible for any detainee in its prisons. If any detainee dies due to medical negligence, the director of the detention center is responsible for the death as a "crime against humanity," and is prosecuted under international law, according to Safadi.

The Syrian government threatened to impose financial fees on the families of prisoners who were tortured to death in Syrian government prisons if the families delay registering their sons' deaths at the civil registry to obtain a death certificate.

A local source, who went to the Tishreen military hospital of the Syrian government in Damascus to obtain a forensic examination, said that a hospital administrator told them that the incident should be recorded as soon as possible, otherwise they would pay fees of up to 75,000 Syrian pounds (about 150 US dollars).

On July 13, 2018, the Syrian Network for Human Rights issued a report saying that the Syrian government listed people who were forcibly disappeared in prisons and dead according to the civil registry in the Syrian governorates.      

The report clarified that several families were shocked to find the names of their relatives listed dead when they applied documents in the civil registry. The prisoners are forcibly disappeared in the Syrian government's prisons. These incidents frequently occurred in Hama, Homs, Latakia, Rif Dimashq, and al-Hasakah.

The Syrian government cannot be prosecuted in the Hague ...

The director of the Nophotozone said that Syria is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court (based in Hague) and is not a party to it. Therefore, it is not possible to sue the Syrian government. The director stated that it is possible to set up special courts in Syria similar to that of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The Syrian government, in cooperation with the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, have been accused of assassinating Hariri. Also, human rights activists and organizations prosecute the Syrian government in Europe.

The death certificate issued by the military police can be used to refer to the place of death, which is often the Sednaya Military Prison, Military Security or Air Intelligence. Safadi explained that this death certificate differs from the death certificate issued by the Civil Status Department, which doesn’t refer to the place of death.

Safadi estimated the number of detainees in the hundreds of thousands since the beginning of the Syrian revolution. She stated that it is impossible to give an accurate count due to the difficulty of documentation in Syria where human rights organizations are not allowed to enter. This keeps the fate of those who were forcibly disappeared unknown because there is no information about the place of detention.

Torture is a crime against humanity ...

Mohammed al-Jassim, a researcher at the Center for Civil Society and Democracy, shares his opinion with Safadi regarding the difficulty of documenting the names accurately. Al-Jassim stressed that Article 7 of the Rome Statute (Convention on the International Criminal Court) considers torture a crime against humanity when committed systematically and directed against any civilian.