‘No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’ Article 5 – Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Various human rights are included in the Syrian Constitution; including the right to freedom of expression, freedom from torture and the right to peaceful assembly.
Article 12 of the Constitution reads:
‘The state is at the people’s service. Its establishment seeks to protect the fundamental rights of the citizens and develop their lives.’ 
Syria signed a number of international treaties on human rights and never submitted derogation requests for any of them. It thus has a legally binding responsibility to respect and implement them, at all times, under all circumstances.
Syria is part of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. In this United Nations Convention, torture is defined as follows:
“Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.’”
In addition, article 2 of the Convention states that “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”
However, thorough evidence from leaked videos, human rights organisations’ reports, and personal testimonies has proven the widespread, systematic and consistent use of torture of prisoners in detention, particularly since the beginning of the Syrian uprising.
Torture has always been a usual practice in Syria, a method used by the security forces and the ‘mukhabarat’ (secret agents) to crush any form of dissent against the long-existing Al Assad single party dictatorship.
The Human Rights Watch Report on Syria issued back in 2005 (report for the year 2004) recorded and documented evidence of ‘arbitrary arrests, systematic torture, prolonged detentions of suspects and grossly unfair trials.’ Since the imposition of the emergency rule in 1963 (still in effect to this day), ‘authorities continue to harass and imprison human rights defenders and other non-violent critics of government policies.’ 
Aktham Nu’aisse, one of many Syrian human rights activists and political critics, was arrested in 2004 by the Syrian authorities after he organised a peaceful demonstration outside the parliament building calling for an end to emergency rule. He was fortunately released but extradited. Others were less fortunate and are still being detained to this day.
Today, thousands of Syrian civilians are being beaten by the security forces with batons, electrical cables and illegal devices. Children are no exception. The story of Hamza Al-Khateeb (the 13 year-old child, one of the first to be arrested in April 2011 in the city of Dar’a and whose dead, burnt and disfigured body was sent to his parents) made the headlines but this story is not isolated, children and teenagers are constant targets and victims of torture, sexual abuse and killings.
The Syrian government is not respecting the fundamental human rights of its people, including the freedom from torture and other forms of ill treatment. By allowing torture to be a systematic practice throughout the country, it is breaching its international engagements and binding responsibilities.
What action will the international community take regarding these human rights abuses? Is it enough to document, report and condemn them? Will it become just another chapter of the World Report like the one of 2005? No major action or initiative was taken back then by the International Community to enforce these laws and ensure they are applicable on the ground. No major action is being taken today as the world chose to turn a blind eye to the pain and suffering of thousands of innocent human beings.
Condemnation is not enough. The State is responsible and as its head, the current president of Syria must be arrested, taken to court and sentenced for crimes against humanity, along with every single person involved in perpetrating and/or facilitating these crimes. It is the strict minimum the International Community can do in the name of human rights. Otherwise, what is the meaning, in essence, of international human rights and its claim of universality?
- Article 12 of the Syrian Constitution: http://www.servat.unibe.ch/icl/sy00000_.html
- The Convention can be found here: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/pdf/cat.pdf
- Definition of torture : http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/cat.htm
- World Report (2005) Human Rights Watch, chapter on Syria.
 World Report (2005) Human Rights Watch, chapter on Syria.