Summary: New report exposes ill-treatment and undocumented killing of detainees in Syrian prisons

19th August 2016: Amnesty International has today released a report titled ‘It breaks the human’: Torture, Disease and Death in Syria’s Prisons, which details the appalling conditions and high mortality rate in Syrian prisons between 2011 and 2015. The report was conducted in collaboration with SRT grantees the Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG) and Forensic Architecture.

The report provides harrowing accounts of ill-treatment of detainees in Syrian prisons since the start of the conflict in March 2011. It explores the cases of 65 torture survivors detained by the Syrian military and security services, who describe appalling abuse and inhuman conditions in the prisons where they were held. Many report seeing prisoners dying in custody and dead bodies being left in cells. The report also publishes HRDAG’s estimate of the number of killings that occurred. Their evidence suggests 17,723 people – more than 300 per month on average – have died in custody in Syria since the conflict began.

To accompany the report, HRDAG has released a technical memo explaining its methodology, its sources, and the implications of its findings. It used data from four sources to find a total of 12,270 fully documented, identifiable people killed while in detention. Its team of scientists then used multiple systems estimation to estimate the number of undocumented killings in the prisons during the same time period. With estimated total (documented and undocumented) deaths at 17,723, this means that, in effect, 25 percent of the killings in detention were unreported.

Forensic Architecture assisted Amnesty in creating a virtual 3D reconstruction of Saydnaya using architectural and acoustic modelling and descriptions from former detainees. The model aims to bring to life the daily terror experienced by prisoners and their appalling detention conditions.

HRDAG’s Executive Director Megan Price said, “The estimate of 17,723 killings is a conservative estimate. It’s likely that this is an underestimate because of strict criteria we used to classify killings and the extreme difficulty of collecting information about what happens in detention centers.”

Full report from Amnesty International’s website:

HRDAG’s technical memo is available here:

Video with more information about Forensic Architecture’s virtual prison model:

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