Amnesty International uncovers mass executions of civilians by Syrian military

A year-long investigation by Amnesty International uncovered evidence that the Syrian military has been carrying out mass executions of civilians in a prison near Damascus.

The human rights organization estimated that “between 5,000 and 13,000 people were extrajudicially executed” through mass hangings at the Saydnaya military prison between September 2011 and December 2015.

Most of those executed were civilians who opposed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, according to the recent report, “Human Slaughterhouse: Mass hangings and extermination at Saydnaya prison, Syria”.

Amnesty International reported that the civilians were sentenced to death in trials that lasted between one to three minutes. They were then blindfolded, taken to the basement of a “white building” in Saydnaya where they were tortured and then hanged in the middle of the night.

Interviews with former guards, detainees, and doctors at Saydnaya revealed that the mass hangings took place twice a week with 20 to 50 people executed on each occasion. The victims’ bodies were buried in mass graves on land controlled by the Syrian military around the villages of Najha and Qatana and other locations near Damascus.

Amnesty International alleged that the mass hangings were “authorized by officials at the highest levels” of the Syrian government, namely the Grand Mufti of Syria, Minister of Defense, and Chief of Staff of the Army, of whom the latter two were “deputized to act on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad”.

The report found that the “widespread” and “systematic” extermination carried out at Saydnaya amounted to “crimes against humanity”. Amnesty International called on the United Nations to conduct an independent investigation “without delay” to the “crimes under international law committed in Syria”.

“We demand that the Syrian authorities immediately cease extrajudicial executions and torture and inhuman treatment at the Saydnaya Prison and in all other government prisons across Syria,” said Lynn Maalouf, Deputy Director for Research at Amnesty International’s Beirut Regional Office. “Russia and Iran, the government’s closest allies, must press for an end to these murderous detention policies.”

Another round of peace talks brokered by the United Nations, Russia, Iran, and Turkey is being held this month in Geneva.

The five-year civil war has killed hundreds of thousands of Syrians and forced 4.8 million people to flee the country.

The Syrian Center for Policy Research estimated that 470,000 people have been killed in the conflict between 2011 and 2015.

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