A new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) says the Syrian intelligence agencies are running torture centres across the country where detainees are beaten with batons and cables, burned with acid, sexually assaulted, and their fingernails torn out.
The report released on Tuesday by the New York-based group identified 27 detention centres that it says intelligence agencies have been using since President Bashar al-Assad's government began a crackdown on an uprising that began in March 2011.
HRW conducted more than 200 interviews with people who said they were tortured, including a 31-year-old man who was detained in the Idlib area in June and made 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. The staples in the ears were the most painful," the man told HRW.
"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," he said.
The report found that tens of thousands of people had been detained by the country’s four main intelligence agencies: Department of Military Intelligence, the Political Security Directorate, the General Intelligence Directorate, and the Air Force Intelligence Directorate.
"Each of these four agencies maintains central branches in Damascus as well as regional, city, and local branches across the country. In virtually all of these branches there are detention facilities of varying size," HRW said.
The group documented more than 20 torture methods that "clearly point to a state policy of torture and ill-treatment and therefore constitute a crime against humanity."
The group called for the UN Security Council to refer the issue of Syria to the International Criminal Court and to adopt targeted sanctions against officials carrying out abuse.
China and Russia 'shift' positions
Meanwhile, the ministerial agreement on Syria brokered by UN-Arab League mediator Kofi Annan on Saturday marked a shift in the positions of China and Russia, which have been at loggerheads with Western powers, his spokesman said on Tuesday.
Human Rights Watchs talks to Al Jazeera about Syria's secret torture facilities.
"It's imperative that we get a ceasefire," Annan's spokesperson Ahmed Fawzi said on Tuesday adding that exiting the Syria crisis will not be easy.
"It's going to be a long, bumpy road, but we believe that commitments made in Geneva were genuine and if applied as promised will have an effect."
International governments at Saturday's talks in Geneva agreed that a transitional government should be set up in Syria to end the bloodshed there, but left open the question of what part President Assad might play in the process.
Fawzi said that China and Russia were very supportive of the agreement, in which ministers committed to apply "joint and sustained pressure" on the government and opposition in Syria.
"Many forces have joined hands here on Saturday ... don't underestimate the shift particularly from Russian and China."
Qatar, Turkey, Iraq and Kuwait had also backed the agreement at the talks and would use their influence to help end the 16-month conflict in Syria, according to Fawzi.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday he would meet Syrian opposition leaders in Moscow next week to discuss the possibility of ending violence in the country.
"We will use next week’s meeting with the Syrian opposition as part of efforts to bring peace to Syria as it was proposed by Kofi Annan and supported by the international community," Lavrov said at a briefing with his Vietnamese counterpart Pham Binh Minh in Moscow.
"Agreements made in Geneva are an indication the international community stands on the UN-backed positions of peaceful solution."
It was not clear which members of the fractured opposition movement he would meet.
Lavrov also accused western governments of trying to "distort" the agreement reached last weekend in Geneva.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov hailed the accord as an "important step" but added: "Unfortunately … some Western participants have started in their public statements to distort the agreements that were reached" in Geneva.