We, the undersigned non-governmental organisations, write to urge your government to support a resolution on Syria at the 32nd session of the Human Rights Council (hereafter, “the Council”) focused on the issue of arbitrary detentions and violations of human rights committed against detained persons, and to take measures to ensure a victim oriented approach to this issue.
We believe such a resolution at this time would increase the visibility of human rights and humanitarian law violations taking place in Syria, in particular now that the Office of the Special Envoy has announced the recruitment of an expert staff member to oversee progress on the issue of detained and abducted persons. A strong resolution would support efforts undertaken to ensure that concrete measures on the grave violations faced by persons detained or abducted are injected into the peace negotiations so that real progress saving the lives of the tens of thousands that are still detained can be made when negotiations reconvene. It would further help mobilize efforts to protect the victims of such crimes, and should include an opportunity to allow affected populations in Syria the ability to directly engage in Council discussions on the issue of detention, for example by convening a high level panel which would feature Syrian voices.
On 8 February 2016, the independent international Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (CoI) released a report detailing how thousands of civilians have been arbitrarily arrested, unlawfully detained, taken hostage or kidnapped between March 2011 and November 2015. The Syrian government continues to deny the Commission and independent human rights organisations access to the country.
There are clear indications that Syrian government security forces continue to detain people arbitrarily, the CoI estimates that tens of thousands are detained by the Syrian authorities at any given time. Most of the detained are subjected to ill-treatment and torture, and often enforced disappearance. The CoI has gathered information based on testimonies that reveal that the widespread, ill-treatment and torture of detainees as well as the inhumane condition of prisons and other places of detention has led to many cases of death in custody.
According to the findings of the CoI, the practice of torture and/or medical neglect as well as other serious forms of detention conditions amounting to ill-treatment leading to death in detention centers occurred with the knowledge of high ranking officials in Syria. The CoI pointed out that heads of branches and directorates in charge of the detention facilities as well as those in charge of the Military Police and their civilian superiors knew of the deaths and did not take any action to halt these violations. In such circumstances, the high ranking officials could be held individually criminally liable. The CoI concluded that such conduct amounts to “extermination” as a crime against humanity. Further, the CoI finds that the Syrian government is responsible for the “crimes against humanity of murder, rape, torture and imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law.”
Non-state armed groups with effective control over territory also continue to hold prisoners “under the most brutal conditions”. Some armed groups have established detention centers to hold captured soldiers who, according to the CoI, were ill-treated and in a number of instances executed. Jabhat Al-Nusra and the armed group calling itself Islamic State (IS) in particular, continue to commit crimes against detainees. On 23 February, IS abducted some 253 civilians from mostly Assyrian villages. In addition, the fate of human rights defender Razan Zaytouneh and her husband and colleagues remains unknown after they were abducted in 2013 in an area controlled by Jaysh al-Islam.The CoI has found that IS detainees were more frequently executed after unauthorized courts issued death sentences.
We therefore call on your delegation to support a Human Rights Council resolution that:
- Draws attention to the thousands of civilians who have been arbitrarily arrested, unlawfully detained, or forcibly disappeared by the Syrian Government, or, on a lesser scale, have been taken hostage or abducted by non-state armed groups.
- Urges all parties to the conflict to immediately issue formal lists of the names and whereabouts of all detainees, including deceased detainees who might be buried in undisclosed burial areas.
- Urges all parties to the conflict to grant immediate and unconditional access to all prisons and other places of detention, to the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) and international, regional and local humanitarian organizations as well as human rights monitors.
- Demands that the Syrian Government puts an end to the torture and ill-treatment of detainees and halt all execution sentences, including sentences handed by military courts and the Anti-Terrorism Court. Further demands that non-state armed groups treat all captives humanely.
- Urges the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and urges all states to accept a shared responsibility to investigate and prosecute crimes under international law committed in Syria, in particular by seeking to exercise universal jurisdiction to bring suspected perpetrators to justice before national courts.
We further recommend that any resolution adopted by the Council at its 32nd Session:
- Commits the Human Rights Council to convene a high level panel at the Council’s 33rd Session that would feature Syrian voices from the ground and witness testimony to crimes being committed in Syria, with a view to ensuring a victim oriented approach by the Council towards the Syrian conflict and consultation with affected populations.
- Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS(
- Amnesty International (AI)
- EuroMed Rights (EMHRN)
- International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
- Human Rights Watch (HRW)
Human Rights Watch, “Syria: Security Forces Storming Prison”. PR published on May 6, 2016. Available at:https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/05/06/syria-security-forces-storming-prison.
UN Commission of Inquiry HRC 31st thematic report, “Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Death in Detention in the Syrian Arab Republic.” Publish February 8, 2016. See Attribution of Individual Responsibility of Deaths, p.12. Available at: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/CoISyria/A-HRC-31-CRP1_en.pdf
 Ibid, see Paragraph 98, p.17
 Ibid, see Introduction, p.2
 Amnesty International Report 2015/2016, “The State of the World’s Human Rights”. See section on Syria, page 352-353. Available at: https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/middle-east-and-north-africa/syria/report-syria/
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