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Keeping Watch

November 10, 1987

For many years Amnesty International has performed the grim but vital work of monitoring and documenting human-rights abuses around the world. From time to time it publishes reports on the status of prisoners in individual countries. Its latest study, on the fate of political prisoners in Syria, provides further depressing evidence that the most brutal methods of ancient barbarism continue to be used as instruments of state policy in the late 20th Century.

"Torture is illegal in Syria." These are the opening words of Amnesty's report. What follows is a carefully prepared catalogue of some of the crimes routinely committed against political prisoners that shows how this supposed legal protection is utterly ignored. Torture in Syria, notes Amnesty, is carried out for a number of familiar reasons: to force detainees to confess or to incriminate others; as punishment for the infringement of prison rules; to intimidate and humiliate. Prisoners' relatives are regularly tortured or sexually assaulted in the presence of the prisoners in an effort to extract information from them.

The report lists more than 35 types of torture described to Amnesty by former prisoners of Syria. It is a catologue of sickening savagery. Death as a result of torture is not infrequent. Neither are cases of torture continuing for years. Syrians are not the only victims. Amnesty notes that Palestinians and Lebanese who were former prisoners of Syria's security forces have reported severe torture, inflicted in both Lebanon and Syria.

Amnesty's repeated calls on Syria to end torture have never received a response. From everything that is known the torture goes on. Does it do any good to call attention to this systematic brutality? Syria's contempt for public opinion appears to equal its contempt for human rights. No matter. It's important with Syria, as with every country where systematic torture occurs, that as full a record as possible be kept, and that as wide a disclosure as possible be made. Decency demands nothing less.

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