Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Friday urged [report] Syrian opposition leaders and neutral international experts to safeguard evidence of torture and arbitrary detention uncovered in government intelligence facilities in Raqqa, the first city to fall to rebel forces. HRW visited the area in April and discovered detention cells, interrogation rooms and torture devices consistent with descriptions given by former detainees since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War [JURIST backgrounder] in 2011. In addition HRW reportedly uncovered documents listing the security force members who had worked in the facilities alongside catalogues of all of Raqqa's college graduates. Interviews with former detainees suggest that security forces questioned civilians about "lawful activities," including participation in peaceful demonstrations, providing relief to displaced families, and providing assistance to the injured. HRW reports that it has uncovered 27 such facilities across Syria, evidencing a systematic pattern and state policy of "ill-treatment and torture" thus constituting a crime against humanity. According to HRW, local opposition leaders must work to protect this evidence, which will likely be "vital to future domestic and international accountability processes," despite continued attack by Syrian government forces and struggles to provide basic services to the local population.
The Syrian Civil War [JURIST backgrounder] erupted in 2011 when opposition groups first began protesting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [BBC profile]. The increasingly bloody nature of the conflict has put pressure on the international community to intervene. In May the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called upon the international community [JURIST report] to find a solution to the conflict in Syria and ensure that those responsible for human rights violations are held accountable. Last month Assad issued a decree reducing prison terms [JURIST report] for a number of rebel prisoners, but the move was dismissed as a "meaningless gesture" by activists. Also in April HRW accused the Syrian Air Force of deliberately targeting civilians [JURIST report] in air strikes in opposition-controlled areas. In March HRW accused Syria's military of using widely-banned cluster munitions [JURIST report] against civilians. In February the UN said that both the Syrian government and the anti-government rebels are committing war crimes [JURIST report]. Earlier that month Pillay reported that the death toll after two years [JURIST report] of armed conflict approached 70,000. In January more than 50 countries asked the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the ICC [JURIST report].