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Syria: UN paper documents dire situation of former Aleppo Central Prison inmates

GENEVA (12 August 2014) – A UN human rights paper issued today details the “indescribable suffering” that detainees and prisoners at Aleppo Central Prison endured prior to and during a year-long siege by several armed opposition groups. The inmates have reportedly been subjected to serious human rights violations and abuses by the Government officials, as well as by several armed opposition groups, and their conditions of detention are believed to remain dire following their recent transfer to other places of detention.

Aleppo Central Prison, in al-Musallamiya town, northern Aleppo Province, was besieged by Ahrar al-Sham, Jabhat al-Nusra and other armed opposition groups from mid-2013 until May this year when Government forces broke through the siege and recaptured the prison complex. On 24 May 2014, Government forces began transferring the at least 2,500 inmates to other detention facilities. Dozens were transferred to hospitals to be treated for malnutrition, tuberculosis and skin disease, among other ailments.

A number of political detainees and prisoners who were transferred from the Aleppo Central Prison remain unaccounted for.

“The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is concerned about their safety and well-being, particularly in view of previous allegations of torture and ill-treatment by Government forces,” the paper states.

The paper, based on research and interviews with former inmates of the prison, their families and other sources, highlights the situation of prisoners and detainees before, during and after the siege. Violations, including extrajudicial killings, torture and ill-treatment of the inmates by the Syrian Government forces, as well as death and disease due to the denial of humanitarian aid by armed opposition groups during the siege, have been documented.

“The reported denial of humanitarian aid, including food, and medicine, as well as attacks by armed opposition groups, have resulted in deaths and injuries among the inmates,” the paper states. “These acts constitute serious violations of international humanitarian law.”

The report states that between December 2013 and March 2014, at least 30 individuals reportedly died of starvation. Dozens of sick prisoners were unable to receive any treatment, which reportedly led to the death of seven minors during the siege period, and a female prisoner on 4 May 2014. OHCHR also received satellite imagery analysis purporting to show the existence of a burial site on prison grounds.

A sister of one of the deceased prisoners told UN human rights staff that after two years of lost contact with her brother, she received a phone call informing her that he had died in prison of tuberculosis.

The testimony of one former prisoner illustrates the extremely difficult conditions of his detention over the course of two years: “I was surrounded by death, fear, hunger, obscurity, my unknown fate, the suffering of my family, and their constant fear for my life.”

As of early June 2014, the Syrian authorities have reportedly started releasing some of the transferred inmates who had completed their sentences or been pardoned by previous amnesty decrees. Those who remain detained are being held in makeshift detention facilities, reportedly including overcrowded rooms in al-Wahda school in the neighbourhood of New-Aleppo that are ill-equipped to house detainees.

OHCHR urges the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic to immediately release all those who are arbitrarily detained, to end the practice of incommunicado detention, and to allow those in custody to have immediate and regular access to their families, as well as to lawyers and doctors.

The UN Human Rights Office also urges all parties to the conflict to allow it and other UN human rights mechanisms, as well as other relevant humanitarian organisations full and unimpeded access to all detention facilities and prisons.

The Syrian Government has responded to OHCHR’s request for information regarding the transfer of detainees and informed OHCHR that the bodies of inmates buried in Aleppo Central Prison would be handed over to their families, in line with applicable procedures, once roads and secured. The Government also noted that allegations of torture and ill-treatment of inmates were being investigated and perpetrators were being brought before judicial authorities.

ENDS

The full paper can be read at: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Countries/SY/AleppoCentralPrison.pdf

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