Thousands of people are believed to have been tortured by the government of Bashar al-Assad since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011, according to a report released by Human Rights Watch. The report entitled “Torture Archipelago” is based on interviews with more than 200 former prisoners and security officers who defected. More than 20 distinct methods of torture are recorded in the report, including beatings with batons; electrocution; pulling out fingernails; sexual violence; being burned with acid; forced to hold stress positions for extended periods of time; and mock executions.
The Human Rights Watch report identifies 27 detention centers across Syria where torture was systematically inflicted on prisoners, according to victims. The report includes pictures of torture methods and satellite maps showing the exact location of detention centers. It also lists the names of commanders of individual detention centers. Ole Solvang, a Human Rights Watch researcher, said Syrian authorities are using this “network of torture chambers ... to intimidate and punish people who dare to oppose the government.”
Most of the victims in the Human Rights Watch report were men ranging from 18-35 years old. But the organization also interviewed women, senior citizens, and children who said they were tortured. A case in point is Hossam, a 13-year-old boy who told Human Rights Watch he was detained in the town of Tal Kalakh in May 2011. He suffered electrocution on his stomach and had his toenails pulled out with pliers.
Another alleged victim was a dentist who was arrested for secretly providing medical care to wounded demonstrators. He reported to CNN in February that he endured near-drownings in buckets of toilet water and electric shocks to his genitals during 45 days in a prison cell that was built for 60 people but held 130 prisoners.
The barbaric acts being carried out by the regime against its own people are appalling. Those committing these heinous crimes must be held to account. Kofi Annan’s principles and guidelines for a Syria-led transition, agreed to on July 1 by the Action Group in Geneva, represents the best solution to ending the violence in Syria and bringing about an end to the tyranny and brutality of the Assad regime. The United States will not waiver in its conviction that the Syrian people deserve a government that is freely elected, respects fundamental human rights and upholds the rule of law.