By Yigit Topcu
The United Nations Human Rights Council released a report on Monday which interviewed over 600 former detainees and eye-witnesses of the prisons of the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad. Their findings show a widespread system of extermination, human rights abuses and crimes against humanity by the Assad regime.
The report claims that the prisoners included rebel fighters, but also sympathizers of the rebels or simply those who did not show enough support for Assad. Thousands of detainees have been killed in prison since the start of the protests in 2011, and conditions only got worse as the civil war erupted and became a stalemate.
The massive scale of the abuses and deaths of prisoners amount to a state-sanctioned system of extermination, according to the report.
The same UN body also released documentation of mass executions and crimes against humanity particularly by two other groups engaged in the war, the Nusra Front and the Islamic State. These are terrorist organizations, so their indictment is not particularly surprising or consequential, but shockingly, while both sides have committed such crimes in this war, the overwhelming majority of them have been carried out by the Assad government, according to the report.
The report evidences a clear pattern of awareness, acceptance and support for prisoner deaths and abuses by Syrian officials and authorities. Deaths in detention centers and make-shift government camps commonly occurred in the form of extrajudicial executions, torturing and beating prisoners to death, or denying them food, water and medical care. The corpses of those killed are reportedly handled by other prisoners, and thrown into hidden mass grave sites.
“Government officials intentionally maintained such poor conditions of detention for prisoners as to have been life-threatening, and were aware that mass deaths of detainees would result. These actions, in pursuance of a state policy, amount to extermination as a crime against humanity.”, says Sergio Pinheiro, chairman of the human rights commission.
The report comes at a time of military momentum for the Assad government, who have been gaining ground with the help of Russia. It also comes a week after UN-sponsored peace talks between government officials and opposition representatives broke down and made zero progress.
With the Assad regime slowly making progress against the rebels, all of whom they brand as terrorists, and with no diplomatic end in sight, it seems likely that Bashar al-Assad may survive until the end of the fighting. With an abysmal human rights record which at times is as bad or worse than that of ISIS, what the future holds for Assad and his top officials in the event of an end to the conflict is unknown. Assad appears to firmly have the support of Vladimir Putin, but as reports like this continue to pile up, hopefully the Syrian president will make an appearance at the International Criminal Court rather than comfortably retire to the Russian countryside.