BEIRUT: The widespread use of torture by Syrian government forces and some rebel militias constitutes a crime against humanity and a war crime, according to a report issued Thursday by the U.N.’s Human Rights Office.
“Open Wounds: Torture and ill-treatment in the Syrian Arab Republic” relies on testimony from 38 former detainees, and details the experiences of men, women and children who have been subjected to torture.
Some were held by armed opposition groups, which the report also says have carried out torture, naming the Al-Qaeda splinter group the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), Al-Qaeda’s affiliate the Nusra Front, the Salafist Ahrar al-Sham network and the Northern Storm and Tawhid Brigades.
Civilians are often held “incommunicado and indefinitely,” and torture is used to extract confessions and information, and also as a form of punishment and intimidation.
Former detainees of regime jails spoke of toenails and teeth being pulled out, and being hung in a variety of excruciating positions for hours on end.
The report also documents sexual abuse and rape against both men and women. One female detainee, held by the regime for two weeks, was raped and then ostracized by her family.
“They called us prostitutes and spat on our faces ... I was hanged against a wall for three days, and frequently beaten with an electric cable. I used to pass out from the pain.”
Upon release she was forced to flee, as her family discovered she had been raped and ejected her from of the family home.
Another survivor, a student detained in Hama, told the authors, “The best thing is when you pass out, because then the pain stops.”
Human Rights Watch reported late last year that tens of thousands of political detainees are being held across Syria, with thousands more presumed killed in detention.