Rights Report Details Torture of Detainees in Syria

Posted March 14th, 2012 at 1:10 pm (UTC-5)
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As diplomatic efforts to end the Syrian crackdown on dissent continue, an international rights group says dozens of Syrians were abused or tortured in detention.

Amnesty International issued a report Wednesday based on interviews with 25 Syrians who said they endured torture at detention centers before they fled to neighboring Jordan. The rights group says the treatment amounts to crimes against humanity.

The report comes as the United Nations-Arab League special envoy for Syria says Mr. Assad's government has responded to his overtures to end the crisis but questions remain.

A spokesman for envoy Kofi Annan said the former U.N. chief is seeking clarification of Syrian answers to proposals Annan made in Damascus over the weekend. Annan is scheduled to brief the U.N. Security Council on Friday.

A Syrian foreign ministry spokesman says Damascus has responded positively to Annan's proposals.

In Washington, U.S. President Barack Obama said he discussed Syria's “horrific violence” with British Prime Minister David Cameron. In a joint news conference, Mr. Obama said the leaders agreed to keep up international pressure to isolate Syria politically and economically.

Fighting continues in Syria as government forces advance against opposition strongholds. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says 13 civilians and seven rebels were killed in Daraa.

Rebel fighters have retreated in some areas and the opposition movement in and out of Syria is showing signs of fraying.

Three opposition figures who had been part of the Syrian National Council submitted their resignations. They cited disagreements with the prominent opposition group. Analysts say the splintering could hinder international efforts to aid opponents of the Syrian government.

U.N. officials estimate that 8,000 people have died in the year-long series of protests and government crackdown. The Syrian government blames the unrest on “terrorists” and outside agitators.

A U.N. agency issued a special alert on Syria's food security situation on Wednesday. The Food and Agriculture Organization says Syria's continued unrest has left more than one million people with limited access to food.

Amnesty International researcher Neil Sammonds told VOA the report from his group documents 31 methods of torture used by security forces, army and pro-government armed gangs in Syria.

“Some of these forms of torture we see a kind of resurgence of methods and levels of abuse which we haven't really seen since the dark days of the 1980s when Bashar al-Assad's father, Hafez, of course was in power.”

He said the number of people who died under “highly suspicious circumstances” while in detention in Syria has been increasing, with 88 cases in the first five months of the uprising, and now a total of more than 270, a year after protests began.

“Definitely the human rights situation is worsening in the country, and we continue to call for the situation there to be referred to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court because crimes against humanity are taking place.”

Sammonds also said the group has second-hand information about cases of abuse by the Syrian opposition, but that they are “very small” compared to the abuses of Mr. Assad's government.

Separately, Italy announced it is closing its embassy in Damascus and recalling some of its staff because of the Syrian government's “unacceptable acts of violence” against citizens. Several other nations, including the U.S., France and Britain, have taken similar action.