Committee Against Torture Convenes Extraordinary Meeting on Situation in Syria

During its 48th session, which is currently meeting in Geneva, the Committee Against Torture convened an extraordinary meeting on the situation in the Syrian Arab Republic.  Syria did not send a delegation to the session.

The Chairman of the Committee acting as Co-Rapporteur for Syria, Mr. Claudio Grossman, explained the reasons for this meeting: the severe situation in Syria with widespread violations of the Convention against Torture; Syria’s failure to provide sufficient information in its previous reports; and realizing the committee’s responsibility of achieving greater compliance of State parties with the obligations of the Convention. Pursuant to article 19 of the Convention, the Committee had requested Syria, “to provide additional information in a special report which will indicate the measures it had taken to ensure its obligations under the Convention are effectively implemented; the measures it has taken to implement the recommendations of the Committee’s concluding observations from Syria’s previous review on May 2010; and information about the current situation.”

To the regret of the Committee members, though Syria declared that it is prepared to fully cooperate with the Committee, it failed once again to provide substantial responses to the committee’s requests and it did not send a delegation. Instead, Syria denied the allegations of widespread use of torture and violations of the convention, noting that they are merely unfounded allegations, and focused on a procedural claim pursuant to which Article 19 of the Convention does not allow for such inquiries by the Committee.

The Chairman stressed that the Convention explicitly empowers the Committee to file such a request, recalling that article 19(1) of the Convention sets out that “States parties shall submit supplementary reports every four years on any new measures taken and such other reports as the Committee may request.

The Chairman stressed that the Committee is deeply concerned about the appalling situation in Syria, based on information from UN bodies and other inter-governmental sources. He listed some of Syria’s violations:

  • Killing of civilians;
  • Joint operations conducted by military and security forces who had shoot-to-kill orders, and numerous summary executions by security forces;
  • The use of live ammunition against peaceful demonstrators and disproportionate means of crowd control including snipers, tanks, and heavy machine guns mounted on anti-personnel carriers and helicopters in urban areas;
  • Use by security forces of rocket-propelled grenades and grenade launchers on AK47s in other areas;
  • Regular raids by security forces on hospitals to search for and kill injured demonstrators;
  • Widespread attempts to cover up killings by the security forces, including the use of mass graves;
  • Systematic and widespread torture of detainees;
  • Security forces were reported to break into homes and beat civilians including women and children and conduct mass arrests followed by transportation of people in buses and trucks to secret detention centers including public stadiums, where torture and inhuman treatment took place;
  • Injured people taken to military hospitals were tortured and beaten during interrogation;
  • Numerous methods of torture, including, severe beating with batons and cables, forcing detainees into stress positions for hours or even days in a row, electroshocks, and deprivation of food, water and sleep;
  • Detainees were often put into overcrowded cells and forced to take turns to sleep;  Many were blindfolded and sometimes handcuffed, then forced to thumb-sign written confessions of crimes that, at best, were read to them by an officer; 
  • Detention and torture of journalists and web activists for reporting on demonstrations;
  • Arbitrary arrests;
  • Sexual torture used on male detainees – men were routinely forced to undress and remain naked, beatings of genitals, forced oral sex, electroshocks and cigarette burns to the anus in detention facilities, anal rape with batons and rape of boys;
  • Cases of the disappearance and torture of children under 18 years old;
  • Obstruction and denial of medical assistance to the injured and sick and the systematic arrest and torture of wounded patients in State hospitals;
  • Individuals suspected by the Government of setting up and operating alternative medical care or providing medical supplies were also subjected to arrest and torture by the security forces.  

Other Committee members commented on the situation. Some referred to the heinous misuse of hospitals as centers of torture and security forces dressing up as doctors then torturing injured patients; the detention and torture of journalists; the use of torture as an open weapon in Syria; the impunity of the security forces; the obligations on the international community’s responsibility to protect; and the need for a fact-based dialogue with the State party in which it could prove the falsity of allegations, as it claimed.

In his concluding remarks, the Chairman repeated that Article 19 explicitly established the authority of the Committee to request additional reports.  He further said that, unfortunately, instead of cooperating, Syria chose to make arguments of form which did not correspond with the Convention. The Committee still called upon the Syrian authorities to provide it with information. Unfortunately a pattern of non-compliance had emerged after Syria declined to provide information for the UN High Commissioner for the Human Rights’ Fact-Finding Mission and the UN Commission of Inquiry.  In the absence of Syria’s cooperation, the Committee would take into account all information, including information publically provided by Syria.

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