Friday,26 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1404, (2 - 8 August 2018)
Friday,26 April, 2019
Issue 1404, (2 - 8 August 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Death lists in Syria

The Syrian opposition has accused the regime of torturing detainees to death in prison in the build-up to a political solution to the conflict in the country, writes Bassel Oudat in Damascus


Death lists in Syria
Death lists in Syria

The regime led by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad this week produced the longest list since the start of the revolution seven years ago of detainees who have died in prison.

According to the opposition, some 8,000 detainees from across the country have been tortured to death in prison after years of disappearance. In the list produced by the regime this week their deaths are put down to illness or heart attacks, though the very production of the list was an unprecedented step intended to halt discussion about the detainees as a precondition to a political solution.

The announcement of the deaths of thousands of detainees opposed to the regime and the regime’s desire to reveal their fate came a few days before the 10th round of the Sochi talks on the conflict sponsored by Russia. Moscow wants to end discussion on the issue of the detainees, demanded by the opposition as a precondition before moving forward on negotiations with the regime.

The announcement also coincided with the establishment of the Association of the Families of the Qaysar Victims, an NGO focused on uncovering the fate of hundreds of thousands of detainees in regime jails. It is named after files published by Qaysar (a pseudonym), who defected from the military police in 2014 after photographing the corpses of victims in regime prisons.

The Qaysar Association has documented 55,000 photographs of 12,000 torture victims.

Thousands of Syrian families have also been informed by telephone that their loved ones have died, without death certificates or coroners’ reports being made available. This was another step towards the regime’s aim of closing the files on more than 200,000 of the disappeared who have died from torture, according to human-rights monitors.

The regime has been trying to whitewash jail records that detail multiple inhumane and illegal acts. Russia wants to restore the conditions that were in place prior to the revolution, and the regime has claimed that all the deaths in prison were “natural deaths”.

According to the opposition, this step by the regime comes in tangent with Russia’s efforts to encourage the return of Syrian refugees and to pressure donor countries to pay for refugee centres inside Syria.

Nabil Al-Halabi, director of the Lebanese Institute for Democracy and Human Rights (LIFE), an NGO, said the regime wanted to move beyond the detainee issue, though this could not allow it to escape accountability.

Human-rights groups “are still demanding the prosecution of those who have committed crimes against humanity, especially systematic torture in Syrian jails,” he said.

Anwar Al-Bonni, a lawyer, told Al-Ahram Weekly that “human-rights groups have evidence that proves the killing of more than 13,000 detainees in regime prisons. We think the real number is more than 50,000 detainees.”

 “Finding out about the fate of the detainees is the first step towards justice and the beginning of accountability in Syria. It confirms the responsibility of the Syrian regime for the detentions and deaths of the detainees, even if only through the denial of medical care. It is responsible for the forced disappearances, the disposal of corpses and the destruction of evidence,” he said.

The Syrian regime may try to find legal cover for the deaths of the victims and perhaps to end political discussion of the detainees. It will want to remove the issue of the detainees from negotiations on a political solution and subsequently the issue of justice in international courts.

Human-rights groups say there is no information on the more than 200,000 detainees believed to be in regime prisons, including 3,000 children and 6,000 women, mostly taken during spontaneous peaceful demonstrations and not belonging to political parties or armed groups.

Students, paramedics, photographers, journalists, scientists and other professionals have been taken, some under suspicion of opposing the regime and others because they participated in peaceful demonstrations. Some were detained at roadblocks because they were from areas opposed to the regime.

Historically, Syria has long been a police state where force has been used to terrorise and prevent political activism. Detentions and forced disappearances have been tools of the regime since it came to power in the late 1960s and tightened its grip in the 1970s and 1980s. They have been used systematically since 2011 to crush revolt and demands for change.

International human-rights groups have been generally unable to defend the victims of abuses in Syria, for reasons including the use of the anti-terrorism card in which priority is given to security measures at the expense of freedom and dignity and the retreat of the West and the US from playing a role in Syria.

 Russia and Iran now exercise considerable power in the region despite their own deplorable human-rights records and their use of force to impose their goals. The result has been that the Syrian regime has continued its rampage of death and terror, looking with cynicism at the impotent UN organisations and on the rest of the world focused on its own narrow interests and concerns.

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