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UN backs Syrian hospital torture claims

6th March 2012

The United Nations spokesman on human rights says the UN has received video footage and testimony similar to that aired by Channel 4 showing torture in a Syrian hospital during recent violence in Homs.

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Rupert Colville said on Tuesday that the UN's commission of enquiry on Syria had received similar video, which he described as "truly shocking."

Channel 4 aired secretly filmed video on Monday showing what it said were patients in a state-run hospital in Homs being tortured by medical staff there.

The footage showed wounded, blindfolded men lying chained to beds near a rubber whip and electrical cable. Some of the patients showed signs of having been severely beaten.

While Channel 4 was unable to verify the video independently, Colville said the independent investigators engaged by the Human Rights Council had received similar images and testimony in the course of their probe into the Syrian conflict.

In a report issued on February 23, the council's investigators accused Syrian government troops of committing crimes against humanity, including torture.

Previous UN reports have documented cases of beatings and torture during interrogation of injured people at military hospitals.

Colville said the "medical personnel" in the footage were reportedly military forces dressed as doctors, but acting with the alleged complicity of the actual doctors.

He said the commission had reported similar scenes and witness statements in a probe commissioned last year.

He said there was evidence that hospitals in Homs and Latakia were turned into partial torture centers during the Syrian uprising.

He said that seriously injured patients were chained to their beds, electrocuted, beaten on their injuries and denied medical attention and water.

Any medical staff who failed to cooperate with the military were open to reprisals.

Syria has a long history of using torture that stretches back more than four decades, Colville said. He said it usually took place under the aegis of security legislation.

He said the brutality of the country's security forces was "notorious."

Methods used by Syrian torturers include severe beatings, electric shock, suspension by the limbs, humiliation and psychological torture.

The World Health Organisation has denounced the actions implied in the Channel 4 video, although it maintains no staff in the country and was unable to verify the images independently.

WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said such acts were "totally unacceptable."

She said hospitals should be neutral places where people could expect to be cared for in security.

She said medical staff should be allowed to work in a neutral and secure environment.

Cases of Syrians seeking medical help outside the government and military hospital system have already been documented in neighbouring countries.

Colville said makeshift clinics rapidly sprang up in people's private residences and mosques, but were also targeted by government forces.

He said the UN had heard from a number of witnesses who said they had been denied medical care when sick or injured.

Public hospitals in several locations, including Homs, Latakia, Baniyas and Idlib had turned away the injured, while security forces had tracked down and persecuted injured protesters in unofficial clinics, too, Colville said.

In one raid on hospitals in Hama last summer, injured demonstrators were arrested and taken to military hospitals, where they were tortured.

He said the scenes described were similar to those shown in the Channel 4 footage.

Anyone setting up secret medical facilities to help injured protesters had themselves been arrested and tortured by security forces.

The staff of private hospitals and ambulance drivers had been warned not to treat or provide assistance to injured protesters but to transfer them to public or military hospitals, Colville said.


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