Sun. May 29th, 2022

Men, women and children with alleged ISIL ties detained in Syrian prisons ‘have never been charged with a crime but remain in long-term detention, uncertain about their fate’, says UN official.

The ISIL (ISIS) attack on a Syrian prison with 3,000 of its fighters and about 700 children is a predictable tragedy that underscores the need for urgent international action, a United Nations official said.

The deadly siege stresses that efforts must be made to deal with those allegedly linked to the armed group in prisons and camps in the country’s northeast, UN Deputy Secretary-General Vladimir Voronkov told the Security Council on Thursday.

ISIL “emphasizes and calls for prison breaks” and “there have been previous cases in Syria and elsewhere in the world”, said Voronkov, the UN’s chief against terrorism.

Most of the men, women and children with alleged links to ISIL detained in Syrian prisons and camps “have never been charged with a crime but remain in long-term detention, unsure of their fate”, he added.

Using the Arabic acronym for ISIL, Voronkov said: “It is also a reminder of why Daesh continues to embed itself in Syria.”

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned the ISIL threat growsincluding in Syria where Voronkov said it was organized into small cells “hiding in desert and rural areas while moving across the border between Iraq and Syria to avoid capture”.

The latest attack at al-Sina’a prison, located in the northeastern city of Hassakeh, was the largest since the fall of the group’s “caliphate” that once stretched across significant parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2019.

Voronkov said the fighting also affected the civilian population and led to the escape of an unknown number of fighters.

‘Break the cycle of violence’

U.S.-backed Kurdish forces said on Wednesday they had taken control of the last section of the ISIL-controlled prison and released a number of detainees who were believed to have been used as human shields, but Voronkov said the fight was “going on”.

The head of counter-terrorism said he was “shocked” by reports that children, who should never have been detained in military custody, were used as human shields.

“Although the group’s barbarism should come as no surprise, these children were left prey to be used and abused in this way, ”he said.

Voronkov reiterated his call to countries to repatriate alleged ISIL fighters and their families in prisons and camps in northeastern Syria.

“The repatriation of third-country nationals from Syria and Iraq remains a top priority for the United Nations and we stand ready as a trusted partner for member states to respond to these challenges,” he said. “Daesh’s efforts to break its prisoners released from prison underscore the need to bring them to justice as soon as possible, and to ensure accountability to break the cycle of violence.”

UN special envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, told the Security Council on Wednesday that the ISIL prison attack “brings back terrible memories of the prison breaks that fueled the original rise of ISIL in 2014 and 2015”.

“I see it as a clear message to use all the importance of uniting to combat the threat of internationally banned terrorist groups – and to resolve the broader conflict in which terrorism inevitably thrives,” Pedersen said.

‘Bare oil’

Russia has asked for the briefing on the prisoner attack and its deputy ambassador, Dmitry Polyanskiy, has accused the United States of saying it is complying with international humanitarian law, which calls for the protection of civilians in armed conflicts, but the use of its air force and armored vehicles to clear the jail of ISIL fighters.

He said the United States had ignored “measures to protect civilians” at the prison and elsewhere, including US airstrikes in Baghouz, Syria in March 2019. he said at least 80 civilians were killed.

Polyanskiy also accused the US of illegally occupying northeastern Syria and “looting oil”.

U.S. Deputy Ambassador Richard Mills opposed, accusing Russia of turning the council meeting “into a rhetoric-driven mass of disinformation and – frankly – lies about US role in Syria”. He said US forces were in the northeast as part of a coalition “with the sole purpose of continuing the fight” against ISIL.

He said the Baghouz attacks were being investigated by the US Department of Defense in response to media reports, stressing that if there had been a similar Russian air strike that had tragically killed civilians, “there would be no independent press to report on it, as there are many few Russians are in opposition to raising the issue ”.

Mills said the prison attack in Hassakeh highlighted the threat that ISIL continues to pose in Syria, as well as the risk of detaining ISIL detainees “indefinitely in temporary facilities in the region”.

He called on member states to support efforts by the coalition to ensure that prisoners are “housed safely and humanely in accordance with international standards”.

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