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Wednesday, July 04, 2012
Syrian intelligence agencies are running torture centres across the country where detainees are beaten with batons and cables, burned with acid, sexually assaulted, and their fingernails torn out and later forced fed to them, Human Rights Watch said in a report.
The New York-based rights group identified 27 detention centres that it says intelligence agencies have been using since President Bashar al-Assad’s government began a crackdown in Mar 2011 on pro-democracy protesters trying to oust him.
Human Rights Watch conducted more than 200 interviews with people who said they were tortured, including a 31-year-old man who was detained in the Idlib area in June and made 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," the man told Human Rights Watch.
"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," he said.
The report found that tens of thousands of people had been detained by the Department of Military Intelligence, the Political Security Directorate, the General Intelligence Directorate, and the Air Force Intelligence Directorate.
Human Rights Watch documented more than 20 torture methods that "clearly point to a state policy of torture and ill-treatment, and therefore constitute a crime against humanity".
The group called for the UN Security Council to refer the issue of Syria to the International Criminal Court and to adopt targeted sanctions against officials carrying out abuse.
"The reach and inhumanity of this network of torture centres are truly horrific," Ole Solvang, emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch said. "Russia should not be holding its protective hand over the people who are responsible for this."
Russia — an ally of Syria — and China have already vetoed two council resolutions that condemned Damascus and threatened it with sanctions.
French UN Ambassador Gérard Araud told reporters that reaching a Security Council consensus to refer Syria to the ICC would be difficult: "As France is concerned, it’s very clear we are very much in favour of referring Syria to the ICC."
"The problem is it will have to be part... of a global understanding of the council and I do think that for the moment we have not yet reached this point," he said.
UN human rights chief Navi Pillay reiterated her position that the issue of Syria’s conflict should be referred to the ICC in The Hague because crimes against humanity and other war crimes may have been committed. She said both sides appear to have committed war crimes.
The UN has said more than 10,000 people have been killed during the 16-month conflict.
Meanwhile, al-Assad said he regretted that his country’s defence forces shot down a Turkish fighter jet on June 22, but still insisted the plane was in Syrian airspace.
"I would have wished 100% we had not attacked it," he said two weeks after the F-4 Phantom jet on a training mission was shot at and crashed into the Mediterranean off Syria.
"The plane was flying in an air corridor used three times in the past by the Israeli airforce," Assad said as an explanation of his military’s action in an interview with Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet.
"A country at war always acts like this, this plane was flying at a very low altitude and was shot down by anti-aircraft defences which mistook it for an Israeli plane, which attacked Syria in 2007," Assad said, rejecting Turkey’s accusations that the Syrians intentionally targeted the jet.
He said the soldier who shot down the plane had no radar and could not know to which country the plane belonged.
Assad sent his condolences to the families of the two pilots of the downed plane, who have not been found.
Turkey views the loss of its fighter jet as a hostile act and has taken steps to fortify its border with Syria.
"We do not want to even consider that this plane was sent deliberately into our airspace," Assad said.
"We want to think of it as a pilot’s error and we would consider this an isolated incident, which shouldn’t be exaggerated... We have nothing to gain in attacking a Turkish fighter jet."
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