The Syrian government has executed thousands of prisoners in mass hangings and carried out systematic torture at a military jail near Damascus, rights watchdog Amnesty International said on Monday (February 6).
Amnesty said the executions took place between 2011 and 2015, but were probably still being carried out and amounted to war crimes.
Syria’s government and President Bashar al-Assad have rejected similar reports in the past of torture and extrajudicial killings in a civil war that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.
The Amnesty report said that between 5,000 and 13,000 people were executed at Sednaya in the four years after Syria’s popular uprising descended into civil war, it said.
“The victims are overwhelmingly civilians who are thought to oppose the government,” the report said.
Lyn Maalouf, the deputy director for research at Amnesty International’s regional office in Beirut said that the findings of the report were about a systematic campaign of mass hanging.
“Every week, usually on Mondays and Wednesdays, groups of detainees, of between 20 to 50 detainees, would be taken from their cells, told that they would be transferred to civilian detentions but instead of that, they were taken to a cell in another building inside of Sednaya where they would be hanged,” she said.
Maalouf said that Amnesty International was calling on the United Nations to launch an independent and transparent investigation into what is taking place in Sednaya today.
“For this to happen in a substantive way, we call on the Syrian government to allow their monitors, the UN monitors who are independent, to be able to access Sednaya, but also all other prisons and detention centers in Syria,” she said.
Maaloud said that Amnesty International had no reason to believe that the hangings in Sednaya stopped in 2015.
“So if they were to continue after 2015, there is very strong reason to believe that several thousands more people would have been killed by now,” she said.
The prisoners, who included former military personnel suspected of disloyalty and people involved in unrest, underwent sham trials before military courts and were sometimes forced to make confessions under torture, Amnesty said.
The executions were carried out secretly and those killed were buried at mass graves outside the capital, with families not informed of their fate, Amnesty said.
The report was based on interviews with 84 witnesses including former guards and officials, detainees, judges and lawyers, as well as experts on detention in Syria.