Humans rights chief decries Syrian torture

The UN's human rights chief in Geneva condemned on Monday the "routine" use of torture in Syrian detention facilities, as a new report said victims were raped, beaten and had their teeth and toenails pulled out.

Humans rights chief decries Syrian torture
UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay. Photo: UNHCR

Navi Pillay said torture was routinely used in government detention facilities as well as by some armed groups in Syria, where more than 150,000 people have been killed in a bloody civil war.
"In armed conflict, torture constitutes a war crime," said the UN rights commissioner.
"When it is used in a systematic or widespread manner, which is almost certainly the case in Syria, it also amounts to a crime against humanity."
The UN report, based on accounts by 38 survivors, detailed the systematic torture of men, women and children in the war-ravaged country.
Detainees arriving at government detention facilities were "routinely beaten and humiliated for several hours by guards in what has come to be known as the 'reception party'," it said.
A 30-year-old university student described how he was beaten, had his beard pulled out and his feet burned at an Air Force Intelligence facility where he was interrogated in 2012.
In another session, "they pulled out two of my toenails with a plier," he said.
And a 26-year-old woman gave an account of being beaten, raped and having her teeth pulled out.
"They called us prostitutes and spat in our faces," said the woman, whose family rejected her after learning she had been raped.

Detainees tortured to death

Nearly half Syria's population have been forced to flee their homes since peaceful anti-government protests that began in 2011 spiralled into a deadly conflict.
The UN report documented cases of people who died in detention "in circumstances which suggest that torture was the cause."
Investigators also found that several armed groups, including the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the al-Nusra Front, had used torture against men, women and children.
Human rights activists and medical workers seen to be affiliated with other armed groups were particularly vulnerable.
One activist told Pillay's office he had been repeatedly arrested by ISIL last July and August.
"They beat me with electric cables, punched me on my face and hit my head with their rifle butts," he said.
The report also details "abhorrent" conditions in many government-run detention centres.
A 60-year-old man who spent three months in different detention centres, including one run by military intelligence, said 120 men were crammed into a 6×8-metre (20×26-foot) cell.
"We just slept on each other," he said, adding that his cellmates were tortured and returned to "with open wounds that remained untreated and became infected."
Pillay said torturers must be brought to justice and victims given treatment and fair compensation.
She also reiterated her call for Damascus to allow the UN and other international bodies to monitor conditions in detention centres.
"I urge the government and armed opposition groups in Syria to immediately halt the use of torture and ill-treatment, and to release all those who have been arbitrarily detained in conditions that clearly breach international human rights standards," she said.

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Swiss woman stands trial for attempting to join Islamic State

A 31-year-old woman from Winterthur who tried to travel to Syria to join Islamic State (IS) is standing trial under Swiss anti-terror laws.

Swiss woman stands trial for attempting to join Islamic State
The federal criminal court in Bellinzona. Photo: Swiss Confederation/OFCL

The alleged ‘jihadi tourist' appeared before Switzerland's federal criminal court in Bellinzona on Friday, the Swiss news agency SDA reported. 

In December 2015, the woman, accompanied by her four-year-old child, attempted to travel to Syria via Greece and Turkey in order to join IS, the authorities allege. 

Her intended destination was Raqqa, which was at the time an IS stronghold in Syria.

The woman was prevented from continuing her journey by the Greek authorities and was arrested at Zurich airport on her return to Switzerland in January 2016. 

The Swiss attorney general's office filed an indictment against the Swiss national for offences under the federal law that bans terror groups including Isis. 

According to the indictment, the woman radicalized herself through internet propaganda after converting to Islam in 2009.

It says the Swiss national believed it was the duty of all Muslims to support IS.

She said she rejected western values.

This is only the second case concerning a so-called ‘jihadi tourist' to go before Switzerland's federal criminal court. 

The first prosecution of its kind took place in 2016, when a 26-year-old man was found guilty of attempting to travel to join Isis and given an 18-month suspended jail sentence.

Islamic State has been banned in Switzerland since 2014.