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Syria regime 'must account' for thousands of prisoners killed in Assad's jails: UN

More than 60,000 people have died in Syrian regime jails during the conflict. [Getty]

Date of publication: 28 November, 2018

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Monitoring groups estimate that more than 60,000 people have died in Syrian regime jails during the conflict.

UN war crimes investigators on Wednesday called on the Assad regime to tell families what happened to their relatives who disappeared and provide the remains and medical records of those who were executed or killed in custody.

Earlier this year the Syrian regime released the names of thousands of prisoners killed between 2011 and 2014.

The lists point to a systematic campaign of slaughter of prisoners by the regime's intelligence services, with the detainees likely tortured to death or executed.

"Most custodial deaths are thought to have occurred in places of detention run by Syrian intelligence or military agencies. The Commission has not documented any instance, however, where bodies or personal belongings of the deceased were returned," the International Commission of Inquiry on Syria said in a report.

Nearly every death certificate for prisoners provided to families recorded that the cause of death was a "heart attack" or a "stroke", the independent panel led by Paulo Pinheiro said.

"Some individuals from the same geographic area share common death dates, possibly indicating group executions," the report said.

In most of the cases the place of death was recorded as Tishreen military hospital or Mujtahid hospital, both near Damascus, but the place of detention was not named.

"Pro-government forces and primarily the Syrian state should reveal publicly the fates of those detained, disappeared and/or missing without delay," the report said, noting this included Russian forces and affiliated militia.

The UN commission said no progress can be made towards a lasting peace without justice for the victims.

In a 2016 report, UN investigators found that the scale of deaths in regime prisons indicated President Bashar al-Assad could be responsible for "extermination as a crime against humanity".

In the same year, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, said that at least 60,000 people had died in Syrian regime jails during the conflict.

More than 20,000 of them had died at Sednaya prison near Damascus, the group said.

Amnesty International reported in 2017 that an average of 20 to 50 people were hanged each week at the Sednaya military prison north of Damascus. 

The US government claimed the Syrian regime was disposing of the bodies of murdered prisoners in a crematorium built for the purpose near Damascus.

Agencies contribued to this report.

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