UN Report Highlights Arbitrary Detention in Syria

UN vehicles travel along a road lined with remnants of destroyed buildings, Homs, Syria. (file) Photo: UNICEF / UNI178367/ Tiku (file photo)
UN vehicles travel along a road lined with remnants of destroyed buildings, Homs, Syria. (file) Photo: UNICEF / UNI178367/ Tiku (file photo)

The report concludes that no warring party in Syria has respected detained persons’ rights in line with international legal obligations.

After a decade of conflict, tens of thousands of civilians arbitrarily detained in Syria remain forcibly disappeared, while thousands more have been subject to torture, sexual violence or death in detention, according to the UN Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic.  

The Commission of Inquiry’s report, released on March 1, based on over 2,500 interviews conducted over 10 years and investigations into more than 100 specific detention facilities, documents historical and continuing detention-related violations and abuses by nearly every major party that has controlled territory in Syria since 2011.

“The wealth of evidence collected over a decade is staggering, yet the parties to the conflict, with very few exceptions, have failed to investigate their own forces,” said Commissioner Karen Koning AbuZayd. “The focus appears to be on concealing, rather than investigating crimes committed in the detention facilities.”

Failure of UN Human Rights Office

The UN human rights officials can only release random reports and meaningless statements about conflicts. But they repeatedly fail to save the lives of the victims of human rights violations and other crimes perpetrated by cruel authorities in different countries. Since the UN human rights office has lost its relevance, it must be shuttered immediately.

The report notes the massive scale of detention, disappearances and patterns of crimes and abuses perpetrated by the Government, and the detention practices of armed groups, including under coalitions of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the Syrian National Army (SNA), and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). It also examines the record of the UN-designated terrorist groups Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

The Commission also outlines how arbitrary detention and imprisonment have been a root cause of, a trigger for, and a persistent feature of Syria’s conflict. Fluctuating waves of arbitrary detention of varying types have been perpetrated by the primary duty bearers – from mass arrests of demonstrators in the early days – to the mass internment of men, women and children today.

The report concludes that no warring party in Syria has respected detained persons’ rights in line with international legal obligations.

The report finds:

  • The Government of Syria arbitrarily arrested and detained individuals and committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in the context of detention.
  • ISIL, HTS, the FSA, the SNA, and the SDF have all unlawfully and arbitrarily deprived individuals of their liberty inside the Syrian Arab Republic. Furthermore, they have committed war crimes in that context.
  • ISIL and HTS have also engaged in crimes against humanity connected with the deprivation of liberty while ISIL carried out a genocide, in part through detention.

The report includes several recommendations, foremost among them that all parties must halt and prevent violations, immediately release specific categories of individuals, allow independent monitoring of detention facilities and provide support to victims.

The Commission’s report is set to be presented on 11 March during an interactive dialogue at the Human Rights Council. A more comprehensive report with extensive information on these violations will follow.

The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, which comprises Mr. Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro (Chair), Ms. Karen Koning AbuZayd, and Mr. Hanny Megally, has been mandated by the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate and record all violations of international law since March 2011 in the Syrian Arab Republic.

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Rakesh Raman