In Syria, war crimes don't take sides, U.N. report says

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Story highlights

  • A U.N. commission says its report is based on more than 600 interviews and documentary material
  • Detainees have suffered on all sides of Syria's civil war, the report says
  • "Nearly every surviving detainee has emerged ... having suffered unimaginable abuses," commission chief says

(CNN)They were prisoners of war on different sides of a conflict that's raged for nearly five years. But all of them faced a horrifying reality, according to a new report on Syria released by the United Nations.

Torture, mass executions and other war crimes have been carried out against detainees held by groups on practically all sides of the fighting, according to the report released Monday by the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria.
    The Syrian government, armed anti-government groups and armed terrorist groups including ISIS and al Nusra Front (al Qaeda's Syrian affiliate) all systematically committed murders, rapes or other forms of sexual violence, torture, imprisonment, enforced disappearance and other acts, the report says.

    'Torture and inhuman treatment'

    The report, "Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Deaths in Detention in the Syrian Arab Republic," cites interviews with more than 200 former detainees and hundreds of family members, military officials and guards who were present during detainees' deaths. It also cites interviews with family members who said they were informed by government officials that the detainee had died.
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    Those who survived painted a picture of harsh conditions in captivity.
    Almost all former detainees described having been victims of and witnesses to torture and inhuman treatment, the report says. Cellmates were beaten to death during interrogations or simply died as a result of lack of food, unclean water and inadequate or no medical care, according to the report.
    "Nearly every surviving detainee has emerged from custody having suffered unimaginable abuses," said Paulo Pinheiro, chairman of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria. "For ordinary Syrians, the specter of arrest or abduction, and the near-inevitable horrors that follow, have paralyzed communities across the country."

    'Systematic executions'

    As armed groups and terrorist organizations took control of territories in Syria, they, too, held prisoners under brutal conditions and systematically executed detainees following illicit trials, according to the report. In Homs, Idlib and Daraa governorates, al Nusra Front and local anti-government armed groups formed makeshift Sharia courts where they prosecuted detainees and then either executed or tortured their subjects.
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    Detention facilities run by ISIS often involved foreign fighters and spanned several regions across Syria and also carried out torture and death of its detainees, the report says. In these detention centers, journalists, activists and civilians deemed in violation of ISIS decrees were subjected to unlawful deprivation of liberty, torture and ill treatment, according to the commission.
    The report, which has not been independently confirmed by CNN, details a former ISIS detainee's firsthand account of witnessing a 27-year-old man being taken out of his cell and hearing screaming while he was beaten with a metal bar. When he was brought into the cell, the report says, the man was foaming from the mouth. When his cellmates called for medical attention, the guards purportedly said, "let him suffocate." The man died shortly afterward, according to the report.
    In its statement releasing the report, the commission said it hoped the U.N. Security Council will adopt new laws and sanctions against those responsible for the atrocities against Syrian detainees.
    The commission said deaths in custody continue to occur in detention centers across Syria in near-total secrecy, away from the view of the public. It added that the Syrian government consistently denies the United Nations and other international human rights monitoring organizations access to the country to properly document the total number of civilians killed in the conflict.