At least 88 individuals have been killed while in custody as a result of their participation in the ongoing protests in Syria, according to an Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] report [PDF] released Wednesday. All of the victims were detained because of actual or suspected involvement in the protests for reform, most of which have been nonviolent, that began in the country last March. AI alleges that many of these deaths involved "horrific" torture, with detainees often being "slapped, beaten and kicked" by members of the security forces and at times "whipped and beaten with wooden sticks, cables or rifle butts." The report also alleges that only two of the deaths were subject to official investigations as required by international human rights law. As a result of this dramatic increase in deaths while in custody and the circumstances surrounding them, AI considers the actions of the Syrian officials to be crimes against humanity and is calling on the UN Security Council [official website] to condemn the killings and take other measures, including an arms embargo and the freezing of assets of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [Al Jazeera profile].
The continuing violence against protesters in Syria has not gone unnoticed. Last week, during a special session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website], UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile], who noted that more than 2,000 people had been killed since the protests began, including hundreds during the month of Ramadan, urged the Syrian government to stop its indiscriminate attacks on peaceful protesters and to release all persons detained for participating in those protests. During this special session, the UNHRC voted 33-4 to adopt a resolution [JURIST report] ordering an investigation into crimes against humanity in Syria and urging the Syrian government once again to halt its violent crackdown against peaceful protesters. The UNHRC began last week's session to discuss the possibility of an investigation after the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] published a 22-page report concluding that Syrian government forces may be committing crimes against humanity [JURIST report]. The session was held in response to a plea [JURIST report] from Pillay earlier this month to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] for an investigation into the violent suppression of anti-government protests.