|Prisons are by their very nature isolated and concealed spaces where abuses can go unnoticed, and in countries with ongoing conflict, prisons are often rife with human rights violations. Already, a former photographer with the Syrian military police showed the world evidence of widespread torture through what is now known as the Caesar files. And over the past several months, prisoners throughout Syria have rioted against the government’s practice of summary executions, whereby military field courts, authorized to try both civilians and military personnel, sentence detainees to execution without due process. In Hama and Aleppo, prisoners rioted when death sentences issued by a field court were scheduled to be carried out against fellow inmates. Most recently, on August 3, prisoners in the Sweida civil detention facility rioted due to mistreatment and the transfer of four detainees to the security branch in Damascus for execution. Although no monitors have been allowed access to any of these detention facilities, Amnesty International created a an interactive 3D model of the Sednaya prison to give outsiders a better understanding of the conditions inside Syrian prisons.
The Geneva Conventions prohibit the inhuman treatment of persons not actively taking part in hostilities, including combatants held in detention. Specifically, the Conventions prohibit murder, cruel or humiliating treatment, torture,and “the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording . . . judicial guarantees.” Syria signed and ratified the Geneva Conventions in 1953, and in 1976, Syria ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which states that “All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect.” Based on the many reports of abuse and summary executions, the Syrian government is in clear violation of these treaties. The Optional Protocol of the UN Convention against Torture mandates periodic visits of international monitors to detention facilities. Although Syria ratified the Convention (with a reservation on Article 20 that recommends visits to detention centers by the UN Body), it never signed or ratified the Optional Protocol so observers are not mandated by any UN treaty body. However, the UN could pressure the parties to the conflict to accept prison visits as a part of its role as mediator in the ongoing negotiations.