The Kidnapped Groom

Syrian Justice and Accountability Centre


July 18, 2014

The Syria Justice and Accountability Center works to collect and document cases from different sources concerning the arrests and abductions of Syrian citizens. The center is highlighting some of these cases to demonstrate the systematic nature of these actions, to illustrate the center’s work, and to encourage other victims to testify, given the importance of testimony to any future justice and accountability processes in Syria.

These are excerpts from a testimony of a victim of kidnapping, “M.A.” M.A. was born in 1989 and he works as a tailor.

“My fiancé and I agreed to go to Damascus to get married and then return together to northern Syria. I was on my way there when our public bus lost its way Maraba, in the suburbs of Damascus, and entered Harasta. [We approached] government barriers, where government forces fired into the air to stop the bus. Then, the government soldiers pulled us down [from the bus] and stopped us in the street in a manner suggesting that they would shoot us.”

M.A. continues, telling the details of a story he made up to try to get himself out of trouble, which ended up backfiring:

“I was thinking that those who stopped us were gunmen from the opposition, and that there had been some confusion. I started shouting, trying to explain: ‘I have brothers like you in the Free Syrian Army in the Farouk Brigades!’ The soldiers all went crazy hearing this, and led me to a separate room, screaming into their wireless devices, asking to talk with the Air Force Intelligence branch. Then they started beating me with wooden sticks and batons for a long time.”

Regarding the whereabouts of his arrest, M.A. says:

“They took me to the Air Force Intelligence branch, and then I was blindfolded, but I could hear their conversations. They took me inside to a room that did not exceed about one square meter. I was struck by thirst, and began to request water urgently, but no one answered me. When I started knocking the door firmly, asking for water, they tied up my hands and my feet and took me inside a room with a water pipe. I approached it, crawling, but they put an electric wire in the water, which shocked me [when I tried to drink]. Then someone asked me if I wanted more water. I told him I completely abandoned the idea. ”

Regarding the Air Force Intelligence branch investigation, M.A. says:

“The interrogator asks me why I came to Damascus, so I answer, simply, that I am coming for [my] marriage. He returned me to a room no more than an area of about one square meter, shared with three other detainees. After several hours, they escorted me to a torture chamber where they folded me inside a rubber car tire tied to the ceiling. Then they start to beat me with sticks and electric rods. I was screaming for god’s help, so he [the guard] says: this is God’s stick. And he continued to beat me with it.”

This situation continued for more than a month and a half. Then they took me to a room of about nine square meters, shared with 70 other detainees. I was able to ascertain the number [by observing] the number of meals served and the number of people entering the room.”

Torture was almost daily and very routine, beginning around four in the afternoon and continuing until midnight and, in some cases, until the morning. Among the tools used in torture were the “Magic Carpet” and electrocution [while I was] in many positions, [used] on different body parts. ”

M.A. recalls his observations from that period:

“I have seen with my own eyes many of the deaths under torture. Others were dying inside the detention room due to hunger and lack of food.”

On one occasion, a number of armed elements of the [military] branch escorted me and three others out of the room. Our feet were bound together by chains, so none of us could escape on our own. They asked us to dig nearby. As we were digging, human remains appeared. I saw a full hand and I dug and found other human remains.”

We started digging at midnight and stopped at six in the morning. Then made us put our thumbprint on a blank piece of paper, and returned us to the detention room.”

One night it seemed that there was an armed opposition attack on the Air Force Intelligence branch in Harasta. So the branch soldiers put me and the other detainees in front of them, as a human shield. The other party [the opposition] stopped shooting, but the branch soldiers opened fire on us directly, killing six detainees.”

M.A. reports that he was not fully aware of the details of his kidnapping after he left the Air Force Intelligence branch in Harasta. He was transferred to the Mezze prison and remained there for three days without going to any interrogations or being asked any questions. Then he was transferred to the military police and stayed there a week.

Subsequently he went to the Justice Palace:

“In the Justice Palace in Damascus, one of the judges sentenced me, [saying] that I was a terrorist. I had never met this judge [before].”

M.A. was sent to Adra prison and then released three months later. In total, about eleven months passed between his wedding day and his release.

Chilean Government Challenges the Jurisdiction of the ICJ in Bolivian Sea Access Case

By Mridula Tirumalasetti

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

SANTIAGO, Chile—Chile wants to deny Bolivia access to the Pacific Ocean. Chilean President Michelle Bachelet stated on Monday that the country plans to challenge the jurisdiction that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in Hague has in the matter.  Bachelet stated, “Our national interest is at stake and we will defend it with all the strength, determination, and sobriety that is necessary.”

The territorial dispute between Bolivia and Chile is longstanding and historical. Bolivia filed a lawsuit against Chile in April 2013, in which the country attempted to regain access to the sea. On April 15, 2014, the Bolivian government filed a written statement which gave Chile three months to file an objection to the ICJ jurisdiction in this case.

Map of the territorial dispute (photo courtesy of Pan Am Post)

Bolivia has asked the ICJ to grant it territory that it lost in the War of the Pacific (1879-1883), even though it signed the Treaty of Peace and Friendship with Chile in 1904. The treaty established the two countries’ current borders, but Bolivia argues it was coerced into accepting the agreement. The Bolivian government estimates approximately 400 kilometers of coastline and 129,000 square kilometers of land were lost due to the War of the Pacific. Chile and Bolivia have had tense relations ever since.

However, the Chilean government insists the two countries signed the Treaty of Peace and Friendship, and thus there is nothing more to settle.

In her address on Monday, Bachelet also stated the treaty had “been respected and implemented by both States for over a century, and Chile has granted Bolivia the widest possible right of commercial transit across its territory and ports on the Pacific.” She continued that Chile’s foreign policy was guided by “the unyielding defense of our territorial integrity and our national interests, which coincide with essential principles of international law and relations among states, including the inviolability of treaties and the stability of borders.”

Because Bolivia is a landlocked country, gaining access to ocean ports could help boost their economy. Moreover, it could help end the dispute with Chile and boost economic ties between the two States.

Bachelet’s decision received widespread support in Chile, and the dispute between the two nations has sparked nationalist sentiments. Julio Carrion, who a a political scientist specializing in the Andean region at the University of Delaware argues, “The strong anti-Chilean sentiment in Bolivia makes it risky for any government to formally give up. The best one can hope for is a gradual, silent fading away of the issue, which is unlikely to happen with the current administration.”

For more information, please see:

PanAm Post– Bachelet Rejects The Hague’s Authority in Bolivia’s Sea-Access Case–8 July 2014

El Pais–Chile to contest UN court’s jurisdiction in dispute with Bolivia over sea access–8 July 2014

The Wall Street Journal–Bolivia’s Tack Toward Pacific Faces Chilean Headwind— 8 July 2014

The Santiago Times–Bachelet: Chile will challenge ICJ jurisdiction on Bolivia case–8 July 2014

Minimum Working Age Lowered in Bolivia

By Mridula Tirumalasetti

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

LA PAZ, Bolivia–Bolivia has legalized children who are as young as 10 years old to be employed. This is the lowest minimum working age in the world.

Lawmakers in Bolivia approved legislation earlier this month, and on July 17, Vice President Alvaro Garcia signed it into law. The law allows 10 year olds to work so long as they are under parental supervision and still attend school. Children who are 12 years old are allowed to work under contract, and they must also attend school.

While the International Labor Organization (ILO) sets the minimum working age at 15, it allows for the minimum age for children in developing countries to be set at 14.  The ILO is investigating to see whether the law violates international regulations on child labor.

11 year old child selling pastries on the streets of Bolivia (photo courtesy of The Telegraph)

Proponents of the new law have argued that children who are younger than 14 years old need to work in order to help support their families. “Extreme poverty is one of the causes, not the main one, of child labor, said Deputy Javier Zavaleta, who is a co-sponsor of the bill. He added, “So our goal is to eliminate child labor by 2020. While it is ambitious, it is possible.”

Another argument for lowering the minimum work age is articulated by Senator Adolfo Mendoza. He stated, “Child labor already exists in Bolivia, and it’s difficult to fight it. Rather than persecute it, we want to protect the rights and guarantee the labor security of the children. “

However, human rights activists see it a different way. According to Jo Becker, who is the children’s-rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, “Child labor perpetuates the cycle of poverty…Poor families often send their children to work out of desperation, but these children miss out on schooling and are more likely to end up in a lifetime of low-wage work.” Her suggestion is for the Bolivian government to “invest in policies and programs to end child labor, not support it.”

Bolivia has made limited efforts to invest in ways to help get families out of poverty by paying $28 a year to families who send their children to school, which is essentially a per-child subsidy. However, recent studies show that one in three Bolivian children do not attend school. Moreover, statistics show that an estimated 1 million children in Bolivia work in textiles, on farms, as street vendors, and even coca leaf pickers.

For more information, please see:

Time–Bolivia to Allow Children to Legally Work at Just 10 Years Old–4 July 2014

The Telegraph–Bolivia becomes first nation to legalise child labour from age 10–19 July 2014

BBC News–Bolivia law allows “self employed children” aged 10 to work–17 July 2014

Al Jazeera America– Bolivia makes child labor legal from age 10–18 July 2014


Fleeing Honduras

by: Delisa Morris Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

San Pedro Sula, Honduras – The United States has seen a surge in immigration of children from Honduras recently.  Juan Hernandez, president of Honduras, believes that the U.S. drug policy is to blame.  “The root cause is that the United States and Columbia carried out big operations in the fight against drugs, then Mexico did it”, stated Hernandez.

Honduran Immigrants leaving the United States for Honduras | Photo courtesy of

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security deported 59 Hondurans this week all women and children, who migrated to the country illegally.  They had all been held in a detention facility in New Mexico.  The migrants were returned by plane to San Pedro Sula, known as the murder capital of the world.

There is a ceaseless river of bodies flowing through the morgue in San Pedro Sula is a testament to one reason so many people leave Honduras.  Honduras is a country rampant with crime and little economic opportunity.

A week ago a 13-year-old girl’s throat was slit ear to ear, and her body was found in a shallow grave in a backyard.  The circumstances of her death are still under investigation.  Some bodies are riddled with bullets; in one case 72-bullet-wounds, while others are bound by their hands and feet and strangled.

The city is covered with gang activity and each body brought into the morgue tells of brutality and violence.

From January to July, the city experienced over 538 homicides, and in at least 423 a gun was used.  In May, the worst month, the body tally was about nine per day.

Families are not allowed to grieve to grieve in peace, in fact, the mere act of claiming a body or attending a funeral can make people there a target for gang members who stalk the morgue and cemetery looking for their next victim.  Right now at least forty-eight bodies are unclaimed at the morgue, and after 30 days, they’ll be buried in the city’s public cemetery.  The morgue keeps DNA, dental records and fingerprints are retained for the day when someone shows up or a killer caught.

Many Hondurans who live in the roughest neighborhoods leave Honduras because they don’t have any other option.

The city’s Director of Forensic Medicine, Hector Hernandez, believes many families haven’t claimed their loved ones’ bodies because they believe their family members have migrated.

Several of the women deported this week have mixed emotions about failing to stay in the United States, and they now worry about paying back the thousands of dollars they borrowed to travel north.  “Part of my heart stayed in the U.S. because I missed a chance to get ahead in life,” said Isabel Rodriguez, who was deported along with her two young children.


For more information please see:

ABC News –59 Migrants Deported From US Arrive in Honduras – July 18, 2014Reuters – U.S. says Deportation of Honduran Children a Warning to Illegal Migrants – July 15, 2014

CNN – In Morgue, Clues to Why People Leave Violence-Plagued Honduras – July 16, 2014

Time – Honduras President: The War on Drugs is Causing the U.S. Immigration Problem – July 15, 2014

Navy Medical Officer Refuses to Force-Feed Guantánamo Bay Detainees

By Lyndsey Kelly
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

 WASHINGTON, D.C., United States of America – A Navy medical officer at the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba has refused an order from the Pentagon to continue force-feeding hunger-striking prisoners. This is the first known instance of a U.S. service member defying the Pentagon’s force-feeding policy.

A Military Doctor at Guantánamo Bay holds a feeding tube used to force-feed detainees on a hunger strike (Photo Courtesy of CNN).

The Pentagon calls its Guantánamo Bay tube feeding policy humane and designed to prevent prisoners from starving to death. The military refers to the controversial process as “eternal feeding.” The force-feeding practice is designed to provide prisoners with liquid nutrition and medicine via a tube inserted in the nose and directly into the stomach. Defense attorneys say that their clients consider the practices torture.

An unknown number of the 149 total detainees at Guantánamo Bay’s Camp Delta have been on a hunger strike for the past year and a half. The purpose of the strike is to protest their indefinite detention.

News of the Navy medical officer’s refusal comes to the public by way of an attorney for one of the prisoners. Abu Wa’el Dhiab, whom is part of a group of detainees participating in the hunger strike, has been imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay since August 2002. Dhiab has been cleared for release since 2009, but U.S officials said that they were reluctant to send him back to Syria because of the ongoing civil war in the country.

A Pentagon official confirmed the statements made by the defense attorney, stating, “There was a recent instance of a medical provider not willing to carry-out the eternal feeding of a detainee. The matter is in the hands of the individual’s leadership. The service member has been temporarily assigned to alternate duties with no impact to medical support operations.”

The identity of the Navy medical officer is currently unknown, but the defense attorney for Dhiab has said that his client described the nurse as a “40-year-old Latino who turned up on the cellblocks in April or May, with the rank of a ‘captain’.”

The medical officer’s refusal came one year after civilian doctors writing for the New England Journal of Medicine declared that medical professionals taking part in force-feeding was unethical. The civilian doctors urged the Guantánamo medical staff to refuse to participate in the pentagon’s designed practices.

Medical staff is allowed to refuse to participate in the eternal feeding of prisoners by invoking medical ethics. Retired Army Brig. Gen. Stephen Zenakis, a psychiatrist who visits the Guantánamo Bay facilities frequently, says that based on his talks with Pentagon policymakers, the medical officer should suffer no consequence for having refused.


For more information, please see the following:

CNN – U.S. Navy Nurse Won’t Force-Feed Guantanamo Detainees – 19 July 2014.

FOX NEWS –  Navy Nurse Reportedly Refuses to Force-Feed Guantanamo Prisoners– 19 July 2014.

MIAMI HERALD – Navy Nurse Refuses to Force-Feed Guantánamo Captive – 19 July 2014.

TIME – Navy Nurse Refuses Gitmo Force Feed Order – 19 July 2014.