July 3, 2012 -- The Syrian government has subjected tens of thousands of detained protestors, including women and children, to electroshock, sexual assault, mock executions and other forms of torture in 27 different torture centers across Syria, according to a human rights group.
In a report published Tuesday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the torture was widespread and systematic, with consistent methods used by four different security and intelligence agencies.
"The systematic patterns of ill-treatment and torture that Human Rights Watch documented clearly point to a state policy of torture and ill-treatment and therefore constitute a crime against humanity," HRW said. According to the United Nations, more than 10,000 Syrians have died since mass protests against the Assad regime began in March 2011.
"We have no reason to believe that [the report] is not credible," said U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland. "It's based on eyewitness accounts and their reporting from a broad cross section of human rights figures inside Syria."
The report includes a map that pinpoints the 27 torture centers, which are often prisons and police stations and are clustered around major cities like Damascus and Homs where protests have been most intense. HRW also provides sketches of alleged torture methods based on detailed accounts gathered from more than 200 interviews conducted since March 2011 with both former detainees and defectors from the Syrian military and intelligence forces who served at the torture centers.
"They forced me to undress. Then they started squeezing my fingers with pliers. They put staples in my fingers, chest, and ears. I was only allowed to take them out if I spoke," said a 31-year-old man who was detained in Idlib in June. "They used two wires hooked up to a car battery to give me electric shocks. They used electric stun-guns on my genitals twice. I thought I would never see my family again. They tortured me like this three times over three days."
Other torture methods described in the report include hanging detainees from the ceiling and beating them with cables, whips and pipes and pulling out fingernails with pliers.
Former detainees who were interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported witnessing the death of other detainees while in custody, though the rights group has not been able to confirm independently the numbers of fatalities in detainment.
While the majority of those interviewed were men between the ages of 18 and 35, Nadim Houry, the deputy director of HRW's Middle East and North Africa division, told ABC News the group also interviewed women, children and the elderly.
"I interviewed a child as young as 11 years old and a man over 70 who had been detained and tortured when security forces couldn't find his sons," said Houry.
Houry also said that activists from across Syria's religious communities, including the ruling Alawite minority, had reported being detained.
Anti-government protests have been raging across the country for over a year and have become increasingly violent over recent months. The Syrian authorities have maintained that they are battling foreign-funded terrorists while activists contend that they are fighting for freedom and democracy. The United Nations puts the death toll at over 10,000.
In its recommendations, the group calls on the United Nations Security Council to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, but in remarks to the press Monday France's ambassador to the UN, Gerard Araud, said there was still no agreement on such a referral.
"[I]t is very clear that we are very much in favor of referring Syria to the ICC. The problem is that it will have to be part of a global agreement of the Council and for the moment we have not yet reached this point," said Araud.
Russia, which has military and economic interests in Syria, has joined China in consistently blocking Security Council resolutions on Syria that call for robust action, preferring instead to back a ceasefire and political mediation led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that has yet to deliver lasting results.