Britain has been accused of flouting the law by funding IS prisons where children as young as nine are held without trial.
For over three years, hundreds of boys have grown up without sunlight in cells that are sweltering in Syria’s summer and bone-chilling in winter.
Some have serious injuries that cannot be treated in the prison, while others have tuberculosis that spreads through unventilated cells.
They receive virtually no education, no family visits, and no fresh fruit or vegetables, according to multiple sources with first-hand information, who described the situation anonymously to avoid jeopardizing relations with authorities.
An estimated 750 boys as young as nine, including Westerners and at least one British national, are languishing indefinitely in a UK-funded prison system in north-east Syria built for people with alleged links to the Islamic State group. None of them have ever been charged with any crime, let alone tried.
The reported death of a detained Australian teenager earlier this month – and subsequent lack of any information or evidence about his fate – has highlighted how the Kurdish-run jail system has become a black hole that is swallowing up dozens of children.
On Jan. 20, 2021, groups affiliated with ISIS attacked al-Sina Prison in the southern part of the city of al-Hasakah, in Syria’s far northeast. The attack, which lasted for nearly nine days, ended with the killing of dozens of ISIS fighters and detainees inside the prison, in addition to approximately 140 members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and its prison guards.
UN experts profoundly concerned for missing and injured children after January attack
UN human rights experts today expressed profound concerns for the physical, mental, educational and overall medical welfare of children arbitrarily held in detention centres in northeast Syria, as well as those children who appear to be missing and unaccounted for.
The independent experts called on the de facto authorities to allow all humanitarian actors to have full and unimpeded access to the children.
In January 2022, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, raised concerns over a deadly jailbreak led by ISIL in Al-Hasakeh region in the northeast of the country.
Boys as young as 10 or 12 have been arbitrarily detained at the jail in conditions that undermined their health, welfare and long-term best interests as children, as victims of terrorism and as vulnerable young persons, UN experts said.
“We are extremely concerned that since the January 2022 attack, the fate and whereabouts of at least 100 of those boys remain unaccounted for, which raises serious concerns relating to their right to life,” the experts said.
“Some of these cases might amount to enforced disappearance, and where children are concerned, States — and de facto authorities — must undertake special measures of protection that reflect their vulnerability.
The UK Government is funding Syrian prisons holding hundreds of children of Islamic State members, the Telegraph can reveal, with some of those detained as young as two.
Britain has provided $20million (£15million) to improve the conditions in filthy, overcrowded jails in north-east Syria run by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Kurdish-led militia that provided the ground forces to defeat IS on behalf of a global coalition.
The SDF was left holding about 70,000 prisoners at the end of the fighting in 2019. The vast majority are children, held in two large detention centres alongside their mothers.
But at least 700 children – and likely hundreds more – are detained indefinitely and without charge in prisons where conditions amount to “torture”, according to a UN special rapporteur. None have been prosecuted or found guilty of any crime.
Britain has said it will repatriate unaccompanied minors whose parents are UK citizens, but an estimated 60 remain in Syria.
“The fact that the UK Government is using taxpayer money to pay for kids to grow up behind barbed wire in overcrowded prisons is horrifying,” said Maya Foa, co-executive director of Reprieve, a legal NGO advocating for women and children detained in northeast Syria.
“The UK Government is effectively creating a Guantanamo for children in Syria.”
Global Rights Watch: States supporting SDF share responsibility for horrific human rights violations
Global Rights Watch (GRW) strongly condemns the continued international support to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which controls large areas of north-eastern Syria despite its involvement in grave human rights violations.
These countries lack respect for the rights of people residing in the areas which the SDF controls, especially as the latter holds thousands of prisoners in inhumane conditions, over allegations that have not been independently verified, GRW added.