Last week the international Court of Justice in the Hague opened a trial into Syrian-state torture in regime detention. It’s the first time the Syrian state has been brought before the court but after years of evidence gathered, no regime representative appeared in court.
The regime’s absence was not surprising but it further underlines the Syrian government’s refusal to be deterred from its ongoing use of torture as a tactic to spread fear at home and abroad.
I was forcibly disappeared, detained, and tortured for nine years in many different security branches in Syria, including the notorious ‘human slaughterhouse’ Sednaya prison, where I was held with my brother for a time. My mother was also detained for two years.
Now I work with other survivors at the Association of Detainees and The Missing in Sednaya Prison (ADMSP) We demand justice for the crimes we were subjected to, support survivors and families of those still detained and conduct research into the Syrian regime’s detention system. This month we released an investigation into the enforced disappearances, torture, and extrajudicial killings at Tishreen Hospital between 2011 and 2020.
We dedicated the report to “To The Memory of Those Who Lost Their Lives in That Place … Alone, With No Loved Ones And With No Names…”
Drawing from 154 interviews, which took a dedicated team of researchers and field investigators a year to complete, we exposed the systematic nature of the Syrian regime’s policies on torture and killing. These actions are beyond the bounds of the law and involve the complicity of several official entities, including military intelligence, the military police, and both the medical and administrative services at Tishreen Hospital.
We found that the Syrian regime uses state agencies, including hospitals, in their detainee operations. At Tishreen Military Hospital, a separate “ambulance department” specifically for detainees has been set up. Detainees who are ill or injured are transferred in ambulances and exposed to torture and maltreatment during the journey. False death certificates and reports were issued in an attempt to legitimize the death of the victims.
Some words from those we spoke to stay with me. A former detainee Mahmoud Al-Hamwi said:
“They were holding me up and beating me against the floor in the jail of Tishreen Military Hospital, they took me for dead, so they put me with the dead… I started screaming as loud as I could.”
Through this report we want to send a clear message to the decision-makers and some governments who are rushing to resume diplomatic ties with the Assad regime: Nothing has changed today, arrests and enforced disappearances continue and continue with impunity.
I hope our report will inform all justice and accountability efforts to hold the regime, including senior officials, accountable through the ICJ trial and other international processes. There must be uniformity in the accountability steps in dealing with violations of international law and human rights among all Courts and judicial bodies to prevent impunity in Syria, and around the world.
Shadi Haroun, former Detainee, HRD, legal documentation and evidence collection program manager at the ADMSP