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Amnesty accuses Kurdish SDF of torture in Syria prisons, camps

April 18, 2024 at 9:45 am

Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard meets with the media at Amnesty International’s headquarters in Spain on 13 March 2024 [Gustavo Valiente/Europa Press via Getty Images]

Amnesty International has accused Kurdish militias and authorities in north-east Syria of committing torture and other abuses in prisons and camps under their control, with the United States and its military being complicit.

Throughout north-east Syria, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) continue to run a number of prisons holding suspected fighters of the Daesh terror group, as well internment camps holding tens of thousands of their relatives, children and dependents.

Over the past five years, those facilities have become infamous for their increasingly dire and poor conditions, along with the fact that there is almost no recourse for detainees to either be charged or to challenge their detention. Many countries around the world are also reluctant or slow to repatriate their nationals detained in the Al-Hol and Roj camps.

In a report released yesterday, Amnesty International has now further shed light on the SDF authorities’ use of torture and other abuses in both the prisons and the camps. According to the report, torture has been carried out “systematically” in the prisons under the Kurdish-led militia, including “severe beatings, stress positions, electric shocks and gender-based violence”.

The Kurdish-led authorities “have committed the war crimes of torture and cruel treatment, and likely committed the war crime of murder”, said Amnesty’s Secretary General Agnes Callamard.

The report also implicated the US in the SDF’s torture, being the militia’s main military backer. “The US government is supporting” the detention system and in some cases “is committing violations itself”, according to the report, adding that the Americans “likely violated the human rights of many of those who have been within its effective control.”

Notably, US forces also had access to detainees within the Kurdish-run prisons and camps, with one former detainee telling Amnesty that American soldiers “checked on the prison, and they searched us, and all of our rooms… They could see the people who were injured from torture.”

Calling on the US to bring the SDF’s detention system “into compliance with international law”, Callamard stated that Washington “has played a central role in the creation and maintenance of this system… and must play a role in changing it.”

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