NEWS

Amnesty says Syrian violence worse than reported

03/14/2012 06:50 EDT | Updated 05/14/2012 05:12 EDT

The level of violence in Syria a year into the uprising may be far worse than the outside world knows, an Amnesty International report suggests.

The organization says what is going on in Syrian prisons and interrogation rooms is even more brutal, the CBC's Carolyn Dunn reports.

The human rights organization interviewed dozens of Syrians who fled the violence for Jordan. In relative safety, 19 of them told their accounts of torture in detention.

London-based Amnesty has compiled the stories into the report "I Wanted to Die."

Many of the detainees say they were stripped to their underwear and beaten with everything from fists to whips.

The worst was saved for prisoner interrogations. Many said they were bent into the middle of a tire, suspended and beaten. Other tortures included electrocution and sexual assault.

Amnesty says its documentation of systemic torture by Syrian security forces is more evidence of crimes against humanity alleged by the United Nations.

It is urging that the situation in Syria be referred to the International Criminal Court. That is unlikely in the near future, because the international community remains split on the best course of action.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Wednesday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is acting like a murderer and should be sent to the international court.

With diplomatic efforts to end the bloodshed in Syria faltering, the French leader urged humanitarian corridors to allow refugees out and aid into the country.

"We must obtain humanitarian corridors, and for that we must unblock the Russian veto and Chinese veto" at the UN Security Council, Sarkozy told Europe-1 radio.

UN Security Council members are meeting this week to decide what to do next to try to stop the violence.

Since protesters first took to the streets in Syria one year ago to call for political reform, security forces have cracked down hard, deploying snipers, troops and pro-government thugs to quash all signs of dissent.

Ill treatment 'widespread and systematic'

As the protests have spread, and some in the opposition have taken up arms to protect themselves and attack government troops, Syria's uprising has evolved into one of the bloodiest of the Arab Spring. The UN says more than 7,500 people, most of them peaceful demonstrators, have been killed.

"Torture and other ill treatment in Syria form part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population, carried out in an organized manner and as part of state policy, and therefore amount to crimes against humanity," Amnesty said.

The group said it has documented 276 cases of death in detention since the uprising's start. Given the large number of people who have been detained, however, the number of those killed is likely much higher, it says.

The report also accuses armed opposition groups of kidnapping and killing people believed to be associated with the regime — actions it condemns.

Syrian officials were not immediately available for comment. The government blames the uprising on armed extremists acting out a foreign conspiracy.

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