“His last words were for his wife and family. Then he died. We closed his eyes, wrapped him in a military cloth, and silently read the Quran in our hearts. “This is how inmates die in Syrian prisons. Be they arrested by the government or by one of the many armed groups which support the opposition, those who end up in jail, are very likely not to leave it alive. Inmates are tortured, sexually abused, and live in obscene hygiene conditions. A slap in the face of basic human rights, a disgrace that cannot be easily washed away because a lot of blood has been shed and because, in the end, no one cares what happens to the “culprits”.
Despite the fact that international organizations do not have free access to the official documents of the Government, the UN has published a report which describes in great detail the situation of the Syrian detainees. President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is well aware of their conditions, but it looks like it does not intend to do anything about it. In this report, the Council for Human Rights points its finger at the Syrian government, but condemns harshly also the armed opposition groups. The starting point of the Council’s denouncement are testimonies of 261 former inmates who told what they have seen and suffered as prisoners.
The eyes of those who survived cannot forget. Some testimonies reveal that prisoners are beaten up with rods until they die. Such episodes happen in the presence of their helpless fellow prisoners forced to turn away their faces so no witnesses are left.
Some testimonies report desperate cries that go on for hours, until the prisoner dies. Other testimonies mention prisoners affected by diabetes, heart diseases, and cancer who receive no medicines or treatment. They are condemned to a slow and inhuman death. There are also testimonies concerning the hygienic conditions in which prisoners live. They are crammed into narrow and overcrowded cells, have no possibility to wash, are forced to defecate in public, in the same cell, and have no choice but drink water from the loo in order to survive. Testimonies tell stories of abuse, also sexual, men and women deprived of their dignity, tortured and bent to extort confessions.
As to the anti-governmental armed groups, only the executioners change, whereas the way prisoners are treated remains the same. Usually, the “criminals” are military men from the Syrian army who had been seized and imprisoned, nosy journalists, foreigners who arrived there hoping to offer their help, and ordinary people who came into contact with the Western world. Those people are kidnapped to ask for ransom or to propose a prisoner swap. Often, however, the situation degenerates and hostages are killed in the cruelest ways: they are pushed down from tall walls, shot, burned alive, with their throats slit, and the last seconds of their life are always recorded by a camera. Later, those images end up on the Web as propaganda material.
Finally, there is the suffering of the families who have no news about their husbands, sons, or brothers who disappeared and never came back. Usually, prisoners’ bodies are brought in a rush to the nearest hospital, where they are given a number to show that they died at the hospital, not in the regime’s prisons. Some prisoners’ relatives manage to bribe the guards into giving them back the bodies of their loved ones, to be able to moan them and give them a proper burial. All those people who have seen the remains of their relatives say that their bodies were emaciated, almost unrecognizable, with evident traces of torture: burns, abrasions, bruises and marks of strangulation.
There is nothing the UN can do besides recommending and informing the international community, asking the Syrian government to commit to put an end to this violation of fundamental human rights and international law. But there is a wall of indifference in front of it: on the one hand, a regime that does not intend to admit its guilt, on the one hand, the groups of terrorists who act completely illegally, hiding behind the atrocities of a war that is decimating an entire people. Whereas the people’s only desire is having its dignity back.