Syria hanged thousands in prison: Amnesty

Syrian government forces standing on the back of an armed vehicle as they approach the strategic Jihar oil fields on the eastern outskirts of Homs, on Feb 7, 2017.
Syrian government forces standing on the back of an armed vehicle as they approach the strategic Jihar oil fields on the eastern outskirts of Homs, on Feb 7, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

BEIRUT • The Syrian government has executed 5,000 to 13,000 people in mass hangings in just one of its many prisons since the start of the six-year-old uprising against President Bashar Assad, Amnesty International contends in a report.

The new report on the Saydnaya military prison, which Amnesty said was based on interviews with former detainees there, prison employees, judges and others, accuses the Syrian government of systematically executing perceived opponents after sham trials that lasted just a few minutes.

Inmates are kept under conditions so dismal that they amount to deliberate extermination, defined under international law as a crime against humanity, the report said.

While inhumane prison conditions in Syria have been known for decades, the Amnesty report laid out what it described as new details about the scale of the killings and the state systems required to facilitate them.

"We now know where, when and how often these hangings are taking place, as well as which elements of the Syrian government have authorised them," said Ms Nicolette Waldman, an Amnesty researcher and one of the report's authors.

Mr Assad has said that "defending" his country in a time of war was more important than any international tribunal that may be brought against his government later.

According to an English-language transcript of interviews published by Syrian state news agency Sana yesterday, Mr Assad accused United Nations institutions of acting unfairly towards his country.

Asked whether he was concerned about a potential court case brought against the regime at the UN's highest court in The Hague, Mr Assad said that he and other Syrian officials "don't care". "We have to defend our country by every means, and when we have to defend it by every means, we don't care about this court, or any other international institution," he said.

The UN General Assembly in December agreed to begin gathering evidence of war crimes in Syria as a first step towards prosecuting those responsible for atrocities there.

NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 08, 2017, with the headline 'Syria hanged thousands in prison: Amnesty'. Print Edition | Subscribe