The suffering of detainees and the thousands of deaths under torture in the prisons of the Assad regime as well as the international community’s responsibility towards this issue.
The National Commission on Detainees and Missing Persons
August 30, 2018
Detention outside the law, enforced disappearances, torture and summary executions, and all other forms of the cruel, inhumane treatment are just some of the policies that the Assad regime has pursued since Assad the father seized power in Syria. These violations have also been deeply rooted in the practices of the regime’s security apparatuses for more than half a century. They have been systematic in the way the regime has dealt with the opposition before and during the revolution. They have also been deliberate as the most important pillars of the regime’s reign of spreading terror among the people.
It is when the long-simmering pain and hope exploded that the people freed their potential energies with the outbreak of the Syrian revolution. It was a not coincidence that the arrest of children in Dara’a on February 27, 2011 and the removal of their nails in response to their scrawling of graffiti on the walls of their schools demanding freedom and dignity was the spark that ignited peaceful demonstrations in Syrian cities and towns. These demonstrations were initiated by activists along with families of the detained children as well as by families of other detainees in other provinces in front of the Ministry of Interior in Al-Marja district on March 16, 2011.
The Assad regime continues to arrest and torture activists, creating additional motives for the revolution to continue. The photos of victims that Caesar leaked along with other documents and reports that were released by international commissions of inquiry and independent rights organizations have exposed the magnitude of the crime that cannot be covered up.
In recent months, the Assad regime has been subjected to international pressure that is supportive of the demands of the opposition and human rights organizations to open its secret and official prisons to the International Committee of the Red Cross to check up on the situation inside. The regime is mistaken when it believes it can turn the page on the issue by announcing the death of the detainees. In mid-2018, the Assad regime sent lists containing thousands of names of detainees to the local registration offices across Syria. The civil registry records indicated that the majority of the deaths took place between 2012 and 2014.
The Assad regime indicts itself and provides evidence of its involvement in the kidnapping and enforced disappearance of detainees over the past several years. This crime is added to the litany of crimes against detainees while they were alive as well as the continuing crimes against detainees after they die by refusing to hand over their bodies to their families or informing them of their burial sites; and by refusing to launch neutral, fair investigation to determine the cause of death.
According to the international jurisprudence of human rights, authorities have the responsibility for proving that the death of any person during detention was natural and did not occur as the result of an action that was carried out against him or due to negligence and failure to do action that it is obliged to do. Therefore, all cases of death must be subjected to an independent, transparent and comprehensive investigation. Failure to carry out these investigations is more than enough to hold the authorities responsible for the death of detainees.
As the Assad regime continues to release death notices, Syria has turned into a big mourning place, from Damascus, with Darayya, the icon of the revolution where Ghayath Matar and his colleagues carried roses and bottled water in their peaceful demonstrations. They confronted the rifles of the Assad regime which arrested and tortured them and whose court-martials issued them with death sentences. The visit by the ambassadors of the five friendly countries to Darayya to offer condolences did not prevent the Assad regime from continuing to detain, torture and murder their colleagues Yahya Sharbaji, Ma’an al-Sharbaji, and Islam al-Dabbas.
In Al-Hasakah, Deir Ezzor, Raqqa, Aleppo, Idlib, Homs, Tartous, Suwayda and Dara’a, photos showing the gouged out eyes of the victims will continue to remind us not to forget their noble dreams and rights.
The goal of maintaining international peace and security as well as achieving stability and peace in Syria and the region at the medium and long term can be achieved only if the parties of the international community take concrete steps in moving forward in the issue of detainees.
The refugee crisis cannot end without the imposition of adequate measures to ensure their safety, beginning with the cessation of torture, execution and detention and the release of detainees.
Putting an end to the crime of genocide in Syria and the protection of human rights are a collective responsibility under all the divine laws, international laws and the values of the free world. Without real pressure and cooperation by everyone, the Assad regime will not stop to commit more atrocities against detainees.
Many make a mistake when proposing to postpone the issue of detainees until the reaching of a final agreement on the political settlement. Such proposals contravene all legal rules, moral principles and human values. Consequently, no solution can see success if it is not accepted by the Syrian people.
Any further oppression of the people by the Assad regime and its backers along with the international community's failure to impose a solution that protects Syrians and families of the victims will certainly cause a spillover of the crisis out of Syria. Without peace, there will be no stability in the region. No peace without justice. No peace without accountability. No justice without accountability. No accountability without trial.
As Russia continues to block any resolution at the UN Security Council to refer the Assad regime to the International Criminal Court, we wonder about the repeated delays in the issuance of the Caesar Act by the US Congress. We also wonder about the causes of the failure to take judicial action to prevent those involved in these crimes from escaping justice.
We confirm that the files of documentation of violations are beginning to be brought to justice. The parties, including Russia, will soon be supporting accountability through a political deal that is being currently negotiated. Until then, we invite all Syrians living in countries whose legal systems give their courts a mandate to consider war crimes to cooperate with these courts by filling complaints against the Assad regime's symbols. We urge them to work with the groups of Syrian lawyers such as Anwar al-Bunni, Mazin Darwish, Hawakan and their colleagues. We also call upon all Syrians to provide us and the relevant organizations, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Syrian Network for Human Rights, and others, with details about detainees.
We highly appreciate the efforts being made by Turkey, the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross in the Astana talks, which led to an understanding with Russia forcing the Assad regime to accept the rule of international human rights law which protects individuals from the behavior of authoritarian governments and rejects to address the issue through prisoners swap deals in accordance with the provisions of international humanitarian law. This understanding represents a tacit admission by the Assad regime and its backers that the detainees in its prisons are peaceful activists and not terrorists or prisoners of war. As the group of friendly countries press to ensure the release of detainees and disclose the fate of the missing and the handover of the bodies of the victims, the Assad regime tries to foil such efforts by registering thousands of detainees as dead at the local registration offices across Syria, thus indicting itself and adding new crimes to its track record of crimes.
We also appreciate the positions made by France, England, Germany, Turkey, the United Sates, Qatar, Liechtenstein, Saudi Arabia and other friendly countries regarding the issue of detainees following the Assad regime’s issuance of orders for civil registry departments to register those detainees as dead.
It is worth recalling that the Assad regime had not complied with the international community in Geneva or Astana as it has not releases a single detainee while it continues to cooperate with the Nusra Front and the Iranian militias in frequent prisoner exchange deals.
The Assad regime continues to systematically carry out new arrests, torture and execute detainees. It has forcibly disappeared hundreds of thousands of peaceful and civilian activists in its prisons. It must release them without prisoner swap deals in accordance with the rules of international human rights law.
As we are increasingly worried for the safety of those who remain, we call upon all parties of the international community to take urgent and extraordinary measures to protect them.
The issue of detainees represents a priority that directly concerns more than five million victims, namely the families of the detainees. Failure to save them will reflect negatively on the efforts to reach political settlement and will jeopardize the Geneva and Astana tracks and undermine the international efforts to make sustainable peace and stability in Syria and the region.
In view of articles 3, 5 and 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which grant rights to liberty, security and life and prevent arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment;
recalling article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court which classifies torture as a crime against humanity; rape as a crime against humanity; enforced disappearance as a crime against humanity; imprisonment or severe deprivation of physical liberty as contravening the basic rules of international law;
recalling article 8 which classifies these acts as war crimes, and prevents the conviction of anyone or sentencing him only in the context of a fair trial before a regularly constituted court ensuring all the necessary judicial guarantees;
and according to UN Security Council resolutions 2042 (2012), 2043 (2012), 2139 (2014), 2191 (2014), 2254 (2015), 2258 (2015), 2268 (2015), and according to the UN General Assembly resolutions 253/66, 262/67, 189/69, 234/70, and based on the Syrian state laws and agreements signed by the Syrian Arab Republic such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention against Torture, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Common Article 3 Of Geneva Conventions, the international human rights law;
and because of the compelling evidence of the Assad regime’s involvement in the above-mentioned crimes, we put the international community in front of its responsibility as we warn of the consequences of failure to put an end to these violations and to allow perpetrators to escape justice, we demand the following:
The formation of pressure group from friendly countries which should begin by presenting a draft resolution to the UN Security Council according to the wording of the letter delivered in order to take urgent, executive measures to protect Syrians from arbitrary arrest and enforced disappearance as well as protect detainees from torture and execution.
The formation of an international coalition at the United Nations to intervene in Syria under the principle of maintaining international peace and security.
To take adequate measures to protect detainees by immediately and seriously intervening to give the International Committee of the Red Cross and observers from the Working Group and the United Nations immediate access to official and secret prisons and detention facilities in Syria.
Forcing the Assad regime to hand over the bodies of the victims to their families.
Warning the Assad regime against further acts of torture or executions in its prisons.
Condemning arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture, and execution in the Assad regime’s detention facilities.
To demand that the Assad regime abide by the provisions of the laws of the Syrian state in terms of allowing the judicial authority to monitor all detention facilities and publishing the reports issued in this regard.
The release of detainees, the disclosure of the fate of the forcibly disappeared, the handover of the bodies of the victims according to a specific timetable that begins with the release of women, children, the elderly and the sick, and the immediate release of children and women as a confidence-building measure.
To compel the Assad regime to stop arbitrary arrests, physical assassinations and any forms of torture in prisons and detention facilities as well as to enable independent observers to enter these facilities to ensure humanitarian treatment of the detainees.
I would like to note that the National Commission on Detainees and Missing persons was formed by a decision of the Syrian Coalition. Technically, it works independently to defend the detainees and missing people in Syrians from all parties and to represent them in international forums using the legitimate means with the aim of stopping torture against them and protect them and ensure their release. The Commission is the legal reference to the issue of Syrian detainees as it cooperates with Syrian and international law and human rights organizations as well as conveys their vision and demands to the institutions and delegations of the Syrian opposition.
The Commission has carried out a number of activities and meetings in the Human Rights Council and with the envoys of friendly countries and independent organizations. It sent a number of the necessary memoranda to the United Nations and concerned bodies. It continues to carry outs its tasks according to a predefined plan in accordance with specific mechanisms to move forward towards achieving its stated goals.