Human Rights Watch

27 "torture centres" revealed in Syria

There are 27 torture centres in the country where people have been beaten and ill-treated – which points to a state policy of torture, Human Rights Watch has said.

TORTURE CENTRES HAVE been revealed in Syria by Human Rights Watch, with 27 identified as being run by Syrian intelligence agencies.

Human Rights Watch said that it has documented examples that “clearly point to a state policy of torture and ill-treatment and therefore constitute a crime against humanity”.

The details are outlined in a 78-page report, “Torture Archipelago: Arbitrary Arrests, Torture and Enforced Disappearances in Syria’s Underground Prisons since March 2011”, which is based on more than 200 interviews carried out since March 2011 by Human Rights Watch.

Included in the documents are maps locating the detention facilities, video accounts from those detained in these centres, and sketches of torture techniques described by those who witnessed or experienced them.

Ole Solvang, emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch said:

The intelligence agencies are running an archipelago of torture centers scattered across the country. 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.

International Criminal Court

Human Rights Watch has 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.

Syria has not ratified the Rome Statute, which means that the International Criminal Court will only have jurisdiction if the UN Security Council adopts a resolution on the situation to the court.

Security Council efforts to push for accountability have previously been blocked by Russia and China, said Human Rights Watch.


According to the documents, methods of torture included electric shocks, pulling of finger nails, mock execution and prolonged beatings.

One 31-year-old detainee told of what happened to him in Idlib Central Prison (contains information that may be distressing for some):

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.

Although most of the torture victims interviewed were males aged between 18 – 35, some were female, children or elderly people.

Intelligence agencies

Human Rights Watch said that the worst torture has taken place in facilities run by the country’s four main intelligence agencies:

  • 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)
  • The Air Force Intelligence Directorate (Idarat al-Mukhabarat al-Jawiyya)

Interviews with some of the detainees are featured on the following video from Human Rights Watch (viewer discretion advised: descriptions of torture and some sketches of torture are included in this):


Criminal responsibility

Human Rights Watch said this morning that those 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.”

It said this would not just apply to the officials who oversee detention centres, but also heads of intelligence agencies, members of government, and President Bashar al-Assad.

Solvang commented:

The reach and inhumanity of this network of torture centres are truly horrific.

On 26 June, the 25th anniversary of the Convention Against Torture, UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said that “the use of torture is illegal, in any circumstances, with no exceptions” and called on states who do not have laws criminalising torture to introduce them urgently.

Read: Syria ‘peace plan’ rejected… by both sides>

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