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Central Prison in Damascus
Central Prison in Damascus

Red Cross visits Syrian Jail

(DP-News - agencies)

SYRIA- Syria opened its main prison in Damascus on Monday to a delegation from the International Committee of the Red Cross for the first time since the uprising started in mid-March, amid hopes that the move could begin to reveal the fate of thousands of political detainees.

Syria has opened its main prison in Damascus to the Red Cross, the organisation said, a move that could help reveal the fate of some of the thousands detained since the start of a five-month uprising.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said its officials visited detainees in the central prison in the Damascus suburb of Adra, a suburb of Damascus, in an "important step forward" to fulfill its humanitarian activities in Syria.



On Monday, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross said the Syrian Government had allowed ICRC to visit Damascus Central Prison, the first such visit during the 5-month-old uprising.

"The Syrian authorities have granted the ICRC access to a place of detention for the first time. Initially, we will have access to persons detained by the Ministry of the Interior and we are hopeful that we will soon be able to visit all detainees," ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger said in a statement issued at the end of a two-day visit to Damascus.

"This is an important step forward for our humanitarian activities in Syria," he said.

The ICRC said Kellenberger welcomed the progress made in terms of access to areas affected by the ongoing violence. He emphasized one of his main concerns now is “to ensure that the wounded and sick are able to obtain medical care.”

His meeting with al-Assad also covered "the rules governing the use of force by security forces in the current situation and the obligation to respect the physical and psychological well-being and human dignity of detainees," it said.

Mr. Kellenberger met with Mr. Assad and the foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, during his visit. The group’s findings were not made public, and Syrian authorities have not revealed the number of detainees, contending that all arrests were legal and that torture did not take place.
But its confidential findings are shared only with the authorities concerned, which human rights activists warn could diminish the impact of the visits. Many people who have been rounded up or disappeared are being held in schools and factories which may be off-limits to the ICRC, they add.

The organization says delegates visited detainees in the Damascus Central Prison, in the suburb of Adra. Spokeswoman Carla Haddad Mardini tells VOA this first-ever visit to detainees in Syria is a significant step forward. But, she adds, it is just the first step.

“The idea is to be able to visit regularly, to be able to assess the conditions of treatment and detention of detainees, to be able to speak to them in private and to be able to visit other places of detention," says Mardini. "So, this is one amongst many places of detention and the ICRC’s ambition is to be able to access all of them.”

Mardini says she cannot disclose how many prisoners were visited. She says information about the total number of prisoners and the number of places of detention in Syria also is confidential.
She says after ICRC delegates assess the condition and treatment of the detainees, they share their findings with the Syrian authorities. And, if there are any problems, she says the organization suggests ways of improving the situation of the inmates.
“Another thing is to be able to speak in private with detainees and those that are held in isolation, those who are held in groups, to be able to discuss with them in private their situation and to understand their needs and any potential problems," she says. "So we can then discuss the issue with the detaining authorities in view of seeing an improvement in the shortest delay. And, then we repeat visits to make sure improvements have taken place.”

Human rights campaigners say Syrian forces have arrested tens of thousands of people since the uprising demanding political freedom and an end to 41 years of al-Assad`s regime erupted in March, with many being housed in security police buildings off limits to the ICRC, whose reports are not public.

A Syrian lawyer, who did not want to be identified for fear of reprisals, said the Red Cross needed to have access to unofficial jails and detention centers to see torture chambers and the extent of human rights violations in the country.

"The Damascus central prison is mostly for criminal, not political cases. The bulk of the ugliest torture takes place in the cellars of secret police branches spearheading the repression, such as Military Intelligence and Air Force Intelligence," he said.

Syrian authorities do not reveal the number of detainees in the country but they have previously denied torture allegations and said that any arrests were made in compliance with the constitution.

"We know that there are more than 15,000 detainees who are not in the formal prisons, among them five of my relatives," Radwan Ziadeh, a Washington-based Syrian exile and activist, told Reuters.

Faced with a heavy security presence in central neighborhoods of Damascus and Aleppo, and military assaults against a swathe of cities from Latakia on the coast to Deir al-Zor in the East, street rallies calling for an end to President al-Assad's regime have intensified in towns and villages across the country.

The Syrian authorities, which blamed the nearly six months of unrest in the country on armed groups and foreign conspiracy, claimed that some Arab TV channels were broadcasting fabricated news about the situation in the country to fuel sentiments against the government.

The ICRC visits people in places of detention worldwide from Gaza to Guantanamo to assess their conditions of detention and treatment.

Visitors Comments          Number of Comments (2)
2
Red Cross
Ralf Nunn            9/7/2011 6:48:47 PM
What does it take to clean up one official detention facility for this show. Look for torture cellars, every street in Damascus has one or more.
1
nazis
yoar            9/7/2011 10:20:41 AM
this precisely was what happenend when the red cross went to investigate the germans for all the attrocoties they were doing. They were shown only military prisoners not the concentration camps like syria is doing! Dont be fooled, Red cross, do something to save human lives!!!!
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