THE HAGUE - Syria has surrendered almost two-thirds of its chemical weapons with the resumption of transfers from the war-torn country, the global chemical watchdog said Monday, although it again pressed Damascus to step up efforts.
“The Syrian government has completed the delivery of the 13th consignment of chemicals,” the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said. “The deliveries have raised the overall portion of chemicals removed from Syria to 65.1 percent, including 57.4 percent of priority chemicals,” it reported in a statement in The Hague.
Damascus had temporarily halted the transfer of its chemical stockpile, citing security reasons, but resumed the operations earlier this month. Under the terms of the US-Russia brokered deal reached last year, Syria has until the end of June to destroy its chemical weapons if it wants to ward off the threat of US air strikes.
The agreement was reached after deadly chemical attacks outside Damascus last August that the West blamed on President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Sigrid Kaag, who coordinates a combined UN-OPCW mission in Syria to oversee the transfer, told the UN Security Council on April 3 that Damascus could still make the June 30 cut-off.
But she warned any delay would make it “increasingly challenging” to stick to the deadline, diplomats in New York said.
OPCW chief Ahmed Uzumcu said the latest shipment out of Syria was “necessary and encouraging,” but again warned that efforts had to be stepped up if the deadline was to be met. In a statement, he said “both the frequency and the volumes of deliveries have to increase significantly” if the transfers are to be finished “against the projected time frame”.
Meanwhile, the UN’s human rights chief on Monday condemned the “routine” use of torture in Syrian detention facilities, as a new report said victims were raped, beaten and had their teeth and toenails pulled out.
“Our findings confirm that torture is being routinely used in government detention facilities in Syria, and that torture is also used by some armed groups,” UN High Commissioner Navi Pillay said.
“In armed conflict, torture constitutes a war crime. When it is used in a systematic or widespread manner, which is almost certainly the case in Syria, it also amounts to a crime against humanity.”
The UN report, based on accounts by 38 survivors, detailed the systematic torture of men, women and children in the war-ravaged country.
A 30-year-old university student described how he was beaten, had his beard pulled out and his feet burned at an Air Force Intelligence facility where he was interrogated in 2012.
In another session, “they pulled out two of my toenails with a plier,” he said.
And a 26-year-old woman gave an account of being beaten, raped and having her teeth pulled out.
“They called us prostitutes and spat in our faces,” said the woman, whose family rejected her after learning she had been raped.
Upon arrival at government detention facilities, the report said detainees were “routinely beaten and humiliated for several hours by guards in what has come to be known as the ‘reception party’”.
Investigators also found that several armed groups, including the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the al-Nusra Front, had used torture against men, women and children.
Human rights activists and medical workers seen to be affiliated with other armed groups were particularly vulnerable.
“I urge the government and armed opposition groups in Syria to immediately halt the use of torture and ill-treatment, and to release all those who have been arbitrarily detained in conditions that clearly breach international human rights standards,” said Pillay.
She stressed the importance of bringing torturers to justice and providing treatment and fair compensation to the victims, and reiterated her call for Damascus to allow her office and other international bodies to monitor conditions in detention centres in the country.