Rights Group Maps Out Syrian Government’s ‘Archipelago Of Torture Centers’

With a growing civil war in Syria, Bashar al-Assad’s notorious police state only increases repression and human rights violations against its own people.

A new report from New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) demonstrates just how prolific these violations of basic human rights have become in Syria. The group interviewed more than 200 Syrians and used the information to identify at least 27 detention centers where torture is used. The “archipelago of torture centers,” said HRW, “clearly point to a state policy of torture and ill-treatment and therefore constitute a crime against humanity.”

Syria’s four intelligence agencies, known together as the mukhabarat, employed a variety of torture methods against civilians and anti-government actors. One 31-year-old described the methods used against him:

They forced me to undress. Then they started squeezing my fingers with pliers. They put staples in my fingers, chest and ears. I was only allowed to take them out if I spoke. The staples in the ears were the most painful. They used two wires hooked up to a car battery to give me electric shocks. They used electric stun-guns on my genitals twice.

HRW detailed the methods and published sketches depicting their use. The group also published diagrams showing that, based on the interviews, Syrian authorities were putting up to 70 people in cells that European standards for detention would limit to five occupants.


When two or more interviewees identified a detention center, HRW added the location to an interactive map. Here’s a screen capture of the map showing the ten detention centers HRW identified in the capital Damascus (click here for the full interactive map):

HRW Emergencies researcher Ole Solvang said in a release: “By publishing their locations, describing the torture methods, and identifying those in charge we are putting those responsible on notice that they will have to answer for these horrific crimes.”

The group said that because Syria is not party to the Rome Statute, International Criminal Court proceedings against officials ordering and carrying out the torture would need to be mandated by the U.N. Security Council. Russia and China have so far blocked such measures. Clearly aiming to pressure Russia — Assad’s top international backer — HRW published its findings and recommendations (PDF) in Russian.