Last updated: 3 February, 2012

Syrian forces torture children as young as 13

Children as young as 13 are a particular target in the “rampant” use of torture by Syrian government forces battling opposition protests, Human Rights Watch said in a report released Friday.

The United Nations says hundreds of children have been killed in the crackdown over the past 10 months, and the rights group highlighted cases of children shot in their homes or on the street, or grabbed from schools.

It documented 12 cases of children tortured in detention centres and said many more may have suffered similar treatment.

“In many cases, security forces have targeted children just as they have targeted adults,” said Lois Whitman, children’s rights director at the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

The group’s report said more than 100 people who had been held by security forces “described rampant use of torture in detention centres against even the youngest detainees, even beyond the 12 cases specifically documented.”

“Children, some as young as 13, reported to Human Rights Watch that officers kept them in solitary confinement, severely beat and electrocuted them, burned them with cigarettes, and left them to dangle from metal handcuffs for hours at a time, centimetres above the floor,” the report said.

The parents of one 13-year-old boy from Latakia said he was detained for nine days in December after being accused of burning photos of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, inciting protests and vandalizing security forces’ cars.

Security officers burned the boy with cigarettes on his neck and hands and threw boiling water on him, the parents were quoted as saying.

Another 13-year-old told Human Rights Watch that security forces tortured him for three days at a military security branch after he was detained in May.

He said he fell unconscious after being electrocuted on the stomach.

“When they interrogated me the second time, they beat me and electrocuted me again. The third time they had some pliers, and they pulled out my toenail,” the boy was quoted as saying.

Most Syrian schools are now closed because of the unrest, in which thousands have been killed since last March. Many of the schools have been turned into detention centres with snipers prowling the rooftops.

Parents told Human Rights Watch that it was too dangerous to let their children out onto the streets.

One man from Homs said he stopped letting his 10-year-old son go to school because of snipers targeting Brazil Street, the main road leading to the school in one of the cities that has borne the brunt of the deadly crackdown.

“We called it ‘the street of death’,” he was quoted as saying.

Teenagers told Human Rights Watch how mass arrests were carried out.

One 17-year-old girl said that in May of last year, security forces entered her school in Latakia and arrested all the boys in her class, after questioning them about the anti-regime slogans painted on the school walls.

She did not know if they were ever released.

Human Rights Watch called on the UN Security Council to demand that the Syrian government end all human rights violations and cooperate with a UN Human Rights Council investigation and Arab League monitors.

The Security Council is negotiating a draft resolution condemning the bloody Syria crackdown. The proposed resolution has been softened by Western and Arab nations in a bid to overcome Russian-led opposition.