U.N. rights chief condemns ‘rampant’ torture in Syria

Navi Pillay, the U.N. human rights chief, condemned the “rampant” and “routine” use of torture by the Syrian authorities, in a paper released by her office Monday, which also records torture by some armed opposition groups and serious allegations of torture and ill-treatment of children.

“Upon arrival at a detention facility, detainees are routinely beaten and humiliated for several hours by the guards in what has come to be known as the ‘reception party,'?” the report states, drawing on 38 interviews conducted by U.N. investigators over the past eight months with individuals released from detention centers across Syria.

“Our findings confirm that torture is being routinely used in government detention facilities in Syria, and that torture is also used by some armed groups,” Pillay said. “In armed conflict, torture constitutes a war crime. When it is used in a systematic or widespread manner, which is almost certainly the case in Syria, it also amounts to a crime against humanity.”

Among those interviewed, a 26-year-old woman detained for more than two weeks described how security forces beat her and pulled out her teeth during interrogation sessions held every night and how, on one morning, she was tied up and raped by a security officer.

It also cites the account of a 60-year-old man who had spent three months in different detention centers and described how, every day, “cellmates were taken for 30 or 45 minutes of interrogation and came back with their faces bleeding, barely able to walk, and with open wounds that remained untreated and became infected.”

Such cases were “illustrative of a much broader pattern of torture and ill-treatment,” the paper noted.

“Men, women and children have been routinely picked up from the street, their homes and workplaces, or arrested at government-manned checkpoints,” the paper said.

Those detained came from all walks of life and had described being held in abhorrent conditions in cells crammed with prisoners and without sanitation, according to the report.

Investigators documented cases of people who had apparently died of torture, but whose corpses were delivered to their families in sealed coffins, preventing the identification of the cause of death. Sometimes the families received only identification papers of the deceased but not a body.

The U.N. paper said torture by armed opposition groups was rare in the early stages of Syria’s conflict but that as of 2013, “this phenomenon appears to be on the rise.” Investigators said they heard allegations that children perceived to be pro-government were tortured and treated poorly.

Two former detainees of the militant jihadist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant cited in the paper described receiving severe beatings with electric cables, wooden sticks and rifle butts.

U.N. investigators said several armed opposition groups, including Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and the Nusra Front, had detention facilities in hospitals, schools and other public buildings in areas under their control and that those most at risk of being held for interrogation included activists and people attempting to document human rights abuses.