A new law criminalizing torture in Syria has drawn scathing criticism from international rights groups, who say it intends to whitewash decades of human rights violations by the Bashar al-Assad regime.
“It fails to offer redress to past victims of torture, include any protection measures for witnesses or survivors of torture, nor does it state whether torture survivors, or in the event of their death, their families would receive compensation,” Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement on Friday.
“Crucially, it fails to mention any measures that could be taken to prevent torture from occurring in detention centers and prisons in the future,” she said, adding that the law “effectively whitewashes decades of state-sanctioned human rights violations.”
The law passed by the Assad regime on March 30 “criminalizes torture and assigns a penalty of at least three years’ imprisonment, and up to the death penalty where the torture results in death or involves rape,” according to a statement by Human Rights Watch (HRW).
It said the announcement of the law by the Syrian regime “might have appeared as satire.”
“It is hard to take something like this seriously, given how pervasive the use of torture is by Syrian state authorities. As HRW and others have extensively documented, Syria has arbitrarily detained and tortured tens of thousands of people in what amount to crimes against humanity,” read an HRW statement released on Friday.
Amnesty International also said it has “previously documented inhuman conditions across Syria’s prisons.”
“The widespread and systematic use of enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment, which has led to deaths in detention, and extrajudicial executions following sham trials, amount to crimes against humanity,” the group said.
Amnesty International said the Syrian regime must urgently give independent monitors access to the country’s notorious detention centers “as a first step to signaling any genuine intent to curtail the practice of torture by state agents.”
HRW stressed that the Assad regime “needs to do far more than pass a law to show that it is reforming.”
“It should start by holding accountable those responsible for torture over the past decade; by releasing all those arbitrarily detained in official and unofficial detention facilities, and by seriously contributing to an international and independent effort to determine and reveal the fate of the thousands who have been disappeared,” read the HRW statement.
Syria has been mired in a vicious civil war since early 2011, when the Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity.
Various estimates suggest the violence has claimed the lives of some 500,000 people and forced more than 12 million to flee their homes.