UN: Syria Blocking Access, Preventing Investigation into Prison Executions Claims

Published May 17th, 2017 - 07:12 GMT
UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura gestures as he speaks during a press conference on the eve of a sixth round of Syria peace talks on May 15, 2017 at the United Nations office in Geneva. (AFP/Fabrice Coffrini)
UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura gestures as he speaks during a press conference on the eve of a sixth round of Syria peace talks on May 15, 2017 at the United Nations office in Geneva. (AFP/Fabrice Coffrini)

The United Nations said Tuesday that Syria's failure to give the organization access to its detention centres was preventing an investigation of US allegations that mass killings and body disposals were taking place in Syria. 

The Syrian government said Tuesday that US accusations that Syria was using a crematorium to dispose of bodies after mass killings were "completely unfounded," according to state news agency SANA. 

A spokesman for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said Tuesday the organization could not independently verify the presence of a crematorium at Saydnaya Prison

"The Syrian government has systematically rejected repeated UN requests to access detention centres and prisons," spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters. 

Various UN entities have regularly documented human rights violations in Syria, including torture in the context of detention, Dujarric said. 

The UN is extremely concerned about the thousands of civilians being held in government detention centres in Syria and has reason to believe they are being subjected to degrading and inhumane treatment, including torture and sexual violence, Dujarric said. 

A Foreign Ministry source told SANA that the US State Department's accusations were "a new Hollywood plot," describing them as something Washington releases ahead of any Syrian peace talks to justify "aggression and intervention." 

"The government of the Syrian Arab Republic confirms that these allegations are completely unfounded and are only fabricated by the imagination of this administration and its allies," the unnamed source said. 

The State Department accused the Syrian government of killing around 50 detainees daily at one of its prisons and using a crematorium to dispose of the bodies. 

The US believes the crematorium is part of an effort to cover up the extent of mass murders taking place in Saydnaya Prison, where as many as 70 prisoners are being held in cells designed to hold just five. 

The newly declassified information lays out details about the use of chemical weapons and abductions. 

The US criticized Russia and Iran - countries that support the government of President Bashar al-Assad - by saying the "atrocities" detailed in the reports "have been carried out seemingly with the unconditional support" from Moscow and Tehran. 

A new round of Syria peace talks started in Geneva on Tuesday, 10 days after a deal resulting from rival talks in Kazakhstan saw four safe zones set up for civilians in the war-torn country.

UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura restarted his bilateral talks with the Syrian government and opposition separately.

In the previous five rounds of discussions in Geneva, both sides have not negotiated directly, instead using de Mistura as an intermediary.

The previous round, which ended in late March, did not yield tangible progress on the key topics of a political transition, a new constitution, or elections. 

After meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the White House, US President Donald Trump said that the US-Turkish relationship "will be unbeatable" against the Islamic State movement in Syria and Iraq, which border Turkey.

Trump voiced appreciation for "Turkey's leadership in seeking an end to the horrific killing in Syria," after a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

"The Syrian civil war shocks the conscience of the whole world," Trump said.

"We also support any effort that can be used to reduce the violence in Syria and create the conditions for a peaceful resolution."

The US Treasury Department on Tuesday designated five individuals and five entities for sanctions, accusing them of having provided support or services to the regime.

"As long as the Syrian government continues its campaign of brutal violence against its own people, Treasury will continue targeting the finances of anyone enabling Assad, and will continue intensifying pressure on Assad's regime in support of diplomatic efforts to end the conflict in Syria," said John E Smith, director of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control.

The action requires that any property or financial interests be blocked, and prohibits transactions with the individuals and entities.

By Helen Corbett

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