Ms. Rima Flihan's Remarks on Syria's Detainees at the UN

Below is the English translation of a speech by Syrian Coalition Member and Human Rights Committee Chair Ms. Rima Flihan at the United Nations special event on Syria’s detainees delivered on March 21, 2014.


Ladies and gentlemen,

Yesterday was Mother's day in Syria, and I want us all to remember the tears of thousands of mothers who are living in daily pain, waiting for news of their sons detained in the regime’s jails.

The regime is rewarding most of them with the news of their son or husband’s death under torture, without even giving them the chance to say a final goodbye. The detainees' funerals have no bodies because the detainees’ bodies are not delivered to the families most of the time. Instead, they are buried in mass graves, where their lives, identities, and memories become just a number.

Being detained in Syria means you may be absent and lost in the dark for years without a trial. It means you will likely be tortured. It means that your family will be blackmailed, and they will beg everyone to bring them any news about where you are detained, or if you are even still alive.

The regime’s jails were characterized during  the rule of both Assad the father and the son by using all kinds of torture. The word “Mukhabarat,” the security forces, was enough to scare people and make them tremble. I’m not exaggerating when I say that anyone who made a joke or had a dream that could be interpreted by the Mukhabarat as against the regime could be detained for years.

Since the beginning of the revolution in 2011, the Assad regime has committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, has committed major human rights violations, and has detained hundreds of thousands of men, women, and even children and elderly in its jails (public and secret). The regime has used all kinds of torture techniques, some even leading to death. There are verified lists of the detainees who have died under torture, and watchdog organizations have written reports about torture in the Assad’s jail.

The regime is hiding political and intellectual activists in secret jails. Most of them have not been released so far. They include: Islam Aldabbas, Anas Alshughry, Mazen Darwish, Hussien Ghurair, Abdulazeez Alkhair, Faek Almeer, Shibly Ala’ithamy, Yahia Shurbaji, Nabil Shurbaji, Adnan Zerai, Zaki Kordello, Mehiar Kordello, Akram Reslan, Kebrael Kouriea, Khalil Matouk, and hundreds of thousands of detainees of all social and educational backgrounds are now unaccounted for.

I have seen bruises from torture on activists’ bodies after they were released. I have also heard testimony explaining what happens from the first moment of the detentions: when the detainees are beaten by cudgels, hands, and gun stocks in the car at the first moments of their arrest, the detainees’ eyes are blinded and their hands are cuffed. In the detention centers, they are tortured in many ways: they were hanged from their feet or hands semi-naked, lashed, beaten with sticks, cables, and plastic hoses, electrocuted and beaten on their feet for hours, tortured in a specially-designed chair, pushed in a tire and beaten again, undressed, doused with cold water, more electrocuting. Both men and women are sexually harassed and raped. Torturers even use pincers to tear the detainees’ flesh. They use electric drills, chemical liquids, rip out their nails,  and more. They use these and other techniques that you can't imagine without being told by survivors released from the prisons who still have the torture's bruises on their bodies

The Syrian regime also uses starvation, poisoning the prisoners through rotten food and health neglect as a torture technique too. They also use sleep deprivation, pushing up to fifty people in a room designed for ten.  Detainees who experience this must spend most of their time standing up, rotate to crouch or lay down on the ground. They are deprived of the means of hygiene and public utilities. Communicable diseases, dermatologic disease, infections like scabies and sores are left untreated. The lack of ventilation, leading to severe cold in winter and extreme heat in the summer compounds the misery.

Detained women suffer from torture and lack of health care. They are not allowed to have any kind of treatments for psychological or even basic needs. And they might be victims of sexual harassment and rape.

The regime has arrested entire families of women and children, sometimes as young as one year old, all the way to adults--the entire family. For example, Dr. Raina Abbasi was arrested with her five children--the youngest was just two years old. Some of the children are detained now,  the others disappeared, their detained mothers don’t know where the regimes hided them because they didn't even hand them over to relatives or leave them with their moms, which is extra pressure on them because they don’t know what happened to their children or their whereabouts.

In a testimony that I heard myself from an ex-prisoner who was arrested, I was disturbed to hear that there are a large number of women do not know why they were arrested--they have not done any anti-regime activity. The detainee described to me the case of Ms. G, a prisoner who lost her mind and had a “mental problem” as a result of severe torture and became used as a means of torture. They would enter into the cells, put her in, provoke her, and she would start screaming and beating the other women in detention centers. This lady is now in one of the outposts without trial for months.

The estimated number of detainees in Assad’s prisons is nearly 200,000. It is difficult to actually document all of their names. Documenting all of the violations is one of the most challenging tasks in the Syrian context. 

Through a special team of organizations and jurists, we were able to document violations and   collect approximately 60,000 names of detainees held by the system out of an estimated by 200,000. It was hard to get all their names for all the reasons I mentioned. This calls for the formation of an international commission of inquiry and documentation to reveal the places of detention, both covert and overt, and check to document the crimes of torture and the names of all detainees, and monitor their situation until they are released. These are basic demands, and it is only fair that we should work on it now. We also call upon human rights organizations and relevant international organizations to monitor the condition of the detainees and to find the places of detention and mass graves, and to prosecute those responsible.

From this place, and on behalf of everyone who feels the pain of what is happening in my country Syria, I ask you to stop this criminal, hold him accountable for his crimes, and work on setting up a trial to hold accountable those involved in taking the freedom of hundreds of thousands of Syrians. I also ask you to continue working to release of all detainees and prisoners.

On behalf of the Syrian people, I implore you to rise above the interest games and appeal to your humanity to help stop the Syrian bloodshed. I ask you to help the Syrian people achieve their right to freedom. Violating human rights is a blow to all humanity, and today the Syrian regime has displaced millions, detained and killed hundreds of thousands, destroyed homes, schools, hospitals, cultural and historical heritage, and entire cities, by choosing to repress the peaceful movement by military violence. The regime’s shocking military violence facilitated the spread of chaos that led to extremism, something which is foreign to the Syrian social structure. The regime has committed these atrocities to remain in power. "Assad or we will burn the country to the ground” was the slogan of its militants. We want and demand for Syria to be a proud, free, united country in complete accordance with international laws and human rights laws.

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National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces
Committed to a free, democratic, and pluralistic Syria.