Tuesday 7 February 2017

Saydnaya: "We have no reason to believe mass hangings have stopped"

Lynn Maalouf
Full transcript, in the original English, of my interview with Lynn Maalouf, from Amnesty International - Lebanon.

The news report, in Portuguese, can be found here. Amnesty's full report can be found here

Your report mentions that 13.000 people may have been executed. How did you calculate this number? Is there a margin of error, could the real number be even higher, or perhaps lower?
What we say is that the number could range between 5.000 up to 13.000, and this is based on an estimate, based on the information that we gathered during the course of the investigation.

Basically, what we did find out, from the interviews that we conducted, is a systematic process of extrajudicial killings that were happening once to twice every week. So we base our calculations on that information and on the information that every time there was a mass hanging it was for groups of between 20 and 60 people. That is how we reached this estimate of 5.000 up to 13.000 people who may have been killed.

We are calling for an independent investigation into these mass hangings to establish the facts.

How did you reach the people interviewed? Are they mostly people who fled Syria, or were the interviews conducted in Syria?
Amnesty International does not have access to Syria, we haven't been in there for quite a long time. So all of the interviews were conducted in Southern Turkey, mostly, and some in Europe and elsewhere.

So they are all based on interviews with people who fled Syria. All of them are either former detainees, there are also former judges, prison officials or prison guards who used to work at Saydnaya at the time that we recount the evidence, the findings that we have, as well as experts on detention and other organisations we collaborate with.

As far as you know, are these mass executions still going on?
We don't have any information about this. The information we have covers the period of 2011, going to 2015 and that is when some of the key witnesses giving us the information stopped working in Saydnaya prison stopped being there physically.

So we don't have any information that this is still going on, but what we do say is that we have no reason to believe that these hangings have stopped.

Living in Beirut, are you afraid of repercussions from the Syrian state or allies?
Amnesty International regional office started operating here this summer. We don't have any reason to... We haven't had any threats, so far, and there is no reason to stop the work that we are doing.

What we do is that we document these facts and then issue recommendations. Whether we issue it from Beirut or from London, it's the same. We do hope to engage with the relevant authorities to address the recommendations that we have in a meaningful way.

But other organisations before us have published reports that are more damning than this report and there have not been any security concerns that we are aware of.

As far as you know, is it only the Syrian Armed Forces that are involved, or is there also involvement of allied militias, as we know there are many fighting side by side with the army?
Now we are talking about violations that are taking place in Saydnaya, a Government controlled prison. We are saying that these systematic practices could not have happened without the knowledge of the highest levels of authority.

But as far as we know there aren't any militias operating in this prison, nor allies of the Syrian government operating there. But we are calling on the allies of the Syrian Government, namely Russia, Iran and now the United States, to exert any pressure they can on the Syrian government to allow independent monitors into the Syrian prisons.

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