Amnesty Report Reveals Torture and Death in Kurdish-controlled Detention Centers in Northeastern Syria

(Prisoners lie packed in the cell like ‘tinned sardines’ (Image: Anthony Loyd for The Times)

In the aftermath of the defeat of ISIS in Syria, a haunting reality emerges from the shadows: a system of detention fraught with mass death, torture, and a litany of other violations against tens of thousands of individuals. Amnesty International’s latest report, titled “Aftermath: Injustice, Torture, and Death in Detention in North-East Syria,” sheds light on the dire situation faced by over 56,000 men, women, and children held in a network of detention facilities and camps.

The report paints a grim picture of the conditions in which detainees are held, most of them arbitrarily and indefinitely. Shocking details reveal torture methods including beatings, stress positions, electric shocks, and even gender-based violence. Thousands have faced forced disappearance, with women unlawfully separated from their children.

Central to the report is the revelation that the United States government has played a pivotal role in the establishment and perpetuation of this system. Through its partnership with the autonomous authorities in north-east Syria, primarily the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the US government has provided extensive support, including funding, training, and joint military operations. The US-led coalition’s involvement underscores a complicity in the creation and maintenance of a detention system rife with human rights abuses.

Amnesty International’s Secretary General, Agn├Ęs Callamard, condemns the actions of the autonomous authorities, stating, “The US government has contributed to establishing and expanding a system of largely unlawful detention, characterized by systemic inhumane and degrading conditions, unlawful killings, and the widespread use of torture.”

Children are not spared from the horrors of detention. An estimated 1,000 boys and young men, many detained for their perceived ISIS affiliation, suffer alongside adults in overcrowded facilities. The separation of foreign national boys from their mothers highlights the indiscriminate nature of detention policies, casting a shadow over the futures of innocent children.

In the detention camps of Al-Hol and Roj, where the majority of detainees are women and children, conditions are described as unsanitary and life-threatening. Gender-based violence, including sexual exploitation and attacks by ISIS affiliates, adds to the trauma endured by detainees.

Moreover, Amnesty International’s investigations reveal flawed trials marred by human rights violations, where confessions extracted under torture are used as evidence. The transfer of detainees to Iraq under a controversial agreement raises further concerns, with documented cases of torture and ill-treatment upon their return.

Amnesty International’s comprehensive report, based on extensive fieldwork and interviews, demands urgent action from the international community. It calls for the immediate release of arbitrarily detained individuals, the cessation of human rights violations, and the establishment of independent investigations to hold perpetrators accountable.

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