Starvation and torture. Ban Ki Moon's second report on humanitarian access to Syria

Last week, Ban Ki Moon presented his second report on the ‘implementation of Security Council Resolution 2139’ – the resolution calling on all sides in Syria to allow immediate humanitarian access to crisis areas such as Yarmouk, where up to 20,000 people are besieged.

The report confirmed that the resolution is not being implemented, and humanitarian aid reached just 34 of the 262 locations identified as in desperate need of food, medical supplies and other aid.

Ban Ki Moon’s report also highlights the continued human rights abuse by all sides to the conflict including killings, enforced disappearances, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, kidnappings, rape, and more. 

Earlier this month, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights added his voice to the many NGOs and countries calling on the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.

It’s clear that horrific human rights abuses are continuing in Syria and accountability is needed. A closed-door informal session of the UN Security Council looked at the evidence of torture and worse in Syria’s prisons. 55,000 images taken by a former military police photographer who defected show the brutal treatment of detainees by the regime. 

To say ‘conditions are terrible’ in Syria’s overcrowded detention centres is a massive understatement. Detainees receive very little food and many lack access to medical attention, legal advice, and their families. Torture including beatings, strangulation and long-term starvation, is widespread to the point of being systemic, and reports show thousands have died in custody.

Many are seized without warning and taken to Syrian jails, leaving their families not knowing what has happened to them. Earlier this year in South Damascus, Mahmoud Saber Sabra stepped out of his house and was grabbed by three armed men in civilian clothing who forced him into a car and drove off

A student at the University of Damascus who also worked for the city administration, Mahmoud wasn’t involved in political activism before his arrest. His brother however, participated in the political opposition delegation attending the peace talks in Geneva earlier this year, and in war-torn Syria this is grounds enough for arrest. Despite some unconfirmed sightings of Mahmoud in military intelligence detention facilities in Damascus, no one has heard from him since mid-February when he was taken.

His family and friends are extremely concerned for his safety and they have reason to be. Six members of Mahmoud’s family have died in the custody of the Syrian security forces since the uprising began, while other family members are detained in terrible conditions. We’re extremely concerned for Mahmoud’s safety, and there’s a real danger that he will be tortured.

In another case which Amnesty is working on, Maryam Haid, a Syrian Arab Red Crescent Volunteer was arrested in similar circumstances. Maryam was seized from her home in Damascus in January by men looking for her cousin. She volunteers on psychosocial support projects and wasn’t known to be a political activist, but her cousin and other family members are political and human rights activists known to the authorities.

While none of her family have been able to contact Maryam since her arrest, she appeared on The Watchful Eye, a programme on the Syrian State TV channel, where she was shown as a terrorist, confessing to organising demonstrations, contacting journalists and receiving money and equipment. Amnesty is concerned that this confession was extracted from Maryam under duress, a practice widely used in Syrian prisons.

Amnesty has documented human rights abuses in custody by the regime and by some opposition groups. The recent evidence viewing session on torture (those 55,000 photos) for the Security Council members was held at the request of France, which is preparing a resolution to refer the conflict to the International Criminal Court.

Such clear and well-documented evidence of the systematic barbaric treatment of detainees as was seen in this session is further proof that war crimes are being committed in Syria.

The perpetrators of war crimes, on all sides, must be held to account and the UN must take refer the case to International Criminal Court, so that justice can be had for Maryam, Mahmoud and the countless thousands of others who have suffered in Syria.

Hannah Slater is our Country Coordinator for Syria.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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