Amnesty International documents violations against detainees in northeast Syria

A detained child in the al-Hol camp in the city of al-Hasakah, northeast Syria - October 11, 2023 (AFP)

A detained child in the al-Hol camp in the city of al-Hasakah, northeast Syria - October 11, 2023 (AFP)


Amnesty International stated that individuals detained following the defeat of the Islamic State organization face “systematic abuses, with a large number dying due to inhumane conditions in northeast Syria.”

The report, titled “Syria: Mass death, torture and other violations against people detained in aftermath of Islamic State defeat,” documented around 56,000 people currently under detention in northeastern Syria, most of them arbitrarily held indefinitely.

This number includes approximately 11,500 men, 14,500 women, and 30,000 children who are detained in at least 27 facilities including the al-Hol and al-Roj camps, which house Syrians, Iraqis, and nationals from around 74 other countries.

The al-Hol camp in al-Hasakah city hosts 12,203 families, comprising 43,491 individuals. Meanwhile, the al-Roj camp in the same city houses 2,661 people, 65% of whom are children. One of the camps facilitated the accommodation of third-country nationals, according to statistics published by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on March 26 last.

The role of the International Coalition

The Secretary-General of Amnesty International, Agnès Callamard, commented that the Autonomous Administration authority, the political umbrella for the Syrian Democratic Forces, a key ally of the US forces in Syria, may have committed the war crime of wilful killing, as reported by the organization.

Callamard also sees the detention system as a violation of the rights of individuals presumed to belong to the Islamic State organization and stated that it has neither achieved justice nor accountability for the victims and survivors of the crimes committed by the organization.

The Secretary-General of Amnesty International further stated, “The US government has contributed to the creation and expansion of a detention system that is largely unlawful, systematically characterized by degrading and inhumane conditions, unlawful killings, and widespread use of torture, despite the US having potentially offered support to improve conditions in detention or mitigate abuses, their interventions have never met the standards required under international law.”

During the report, Callamard emphasized the necessity of conducting a swift verification process to determine which individuals should be released, especially focusing on the victims of the Islamic State’s crimes and vulnerable groups, while ensuring an immediate halt to the ongoing violations and conducting independent investigations into reports of torture and deaths.

“A slow and painful death”

The report, released on Wednesday, April 17, was based on interviews with 314 individuals. Researchers from Amnesty International traveled to northeast Syria three times between September 2022 and August 2023 to prepare the report.

Amnesty International met with eight men who were detained in the Chinese camp prison located on the outskirts of al-Shaddadi city in al-Hasakah between 2019 and 2023.

According to their testimonies, they were routinely subjected to torture or other ill-treatment, including beatings, flogging with electric cables, suspension by the wrists in stressful positions, sexual violence, and electric shocks, the report said.

A testimony obtained by the organization from a woman stated that life in the camp amounted to “a slow and painful death.” The report points out that the al-Hol and al-Roj camps suffer from unhealthy and inhumane conditions posing a threat to life, owing to the inadequate provision of food, water, and healthcare.

The last battles between the Islamic State organization and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), supported by the International Coalition Forces (ICF), took place in the Syrian village of al-Baghouz, east of Deir Ezzor province, on February 9 and ended on March 23, 2019, marking the end of the geographical control of the Islamic State organization, but not signaling the end of its actual activities in Syria.

On February 8, 2022, Amnesty International urged countries with citizens in the al-Hol camp, northeastern Syria, which shelters families of Islamic State fighters, to take meaningful actions to end the “atrocities” in the camp and to repatriate the tens of thousands of children living there.


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