Continued Arrests Increase the Severity of Conditions in Detention Centers and Threaten the Lives of Thousands of Detainees with the Spread of the COVID-19 Pandemic
(Link below to download full report)
SNHR announced in its report released today that it documented at least at least 157 cases of arbitrary arrests/ detention in Syria in July 2020, noting that continued arrests increase the severity of conditions in detention centers and threaten the lives of thousands of detainees with the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances have been amongst the most common and widespread violations since the early days of the popular uprising for democracy in Syria in March 2011. As this report notes, these violations, which have affected hundreds of thousands of Syrians, are carried out by the Syrian security services, as well as their affiliated militias, as part of a deliberate and planned strategy, often in a sweeping indiscriminate manner, in order to instill terror and fear into the largest possible number of Syrian people. Approximately eight months after the start of the popular uprising, other parties began to emerge in Syria, carrying out similar arrests and kidnappings.
The report reveals that since 2011, the Syrian Network for Human Rights has created complex electronic programs to archive and categorize the detainees’ data, which the team collects and verifies, enabling us to catalogue the detainees according to gender, the location where each was arrested, the governorate from which each detainee originally came, and the party responsible for the arrest. These programs also enable us to cross-index cases and make comparisons between these parties, as well as identifying the governorates where the largest proportion of their residents were arrested and disappeared.
As the report explains, most of the arrests in Syria are carried out without any judicial warrant while the victims are passing through checkpoints or during raids, with the security forces of the regime’s four main intelligence services often responsible for extra-judicial detentions. The detainee is tortured from the very first moment of his or her arrest and denied any opportunity to contact his or her family or to have access to a lawyer. The authorities also flatly deny the arbitrary arrests they have carried out and most of the detainees are subsequently categorized as forcibly disappeared.
The report explains that the SNHR’s team abides by strict standards in evaluating and assessing any incident of arbitrary arrest; the detainee figures don’t include prisoners with a criminal background, but do include cases of arrest that are based on the internal armed conflict, mainly due to opposition activity against the ruling authorities, as well as cases of detention to suppress freedom of opinion and expression, in accordance with the principals of international laws and the principles on arbitrary arrest and enforced disappearance. The report relies on cross-checking information from various sources, such as: victims’ families, SNHR members in Syrian governorates, cooperating local activists, and former detainees, before diligently working to contact the families of the detainees and forcibly disappeared persons, as well as people close to them and people who survived detention, for the purpose of collecting as much information and data as possible, in light of the extraordinary and extremely complex challenges.
This report documents the record of arbitrary arrests/ detention by the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria in July 2020, as well as shedding light on the most notable individual cases and incidents of arbitrary arrest that the SNHR’s team documented in July, in addition to categorizing cases and incidents of arrest according to the location of the incident. The report does not include those kidnappings and abductions in which the report was unable to identify the responsible party.
The report also documents arbitrary arrests that were subsequently categorized as enforced disappearances. A number of criteria must be met before SNHR will classify a case as an enforced disappearance: the individual must have been detained for at least 20 days without his or her family being able to obtain any information from the relevant authorities about their status or location, with those responsible for the disappearance denying any knowledge of the individual’s arrest or whereabouts.
As the report reveals, the vast majority of detainees involved in the popular uprising for democracy in Syria, including political and human rights activists, media workers, and relief activists, and similar prisoners of conscience, have been accused by the security branches of several charges based on testimonies taken from detainees by the regime under coercion, intimidation and torture, which are documented within regime security authorities’ reports, with these security reports being referred to the Public Prosecution service, after which the majority of these cases are referred to either the Counter-Terrorism Court or the Military Field Court; the lowest conditions of fair courts do not meet in these courts, which are also closer to a military-security branch.
The report reveals the strategy used by the Syrian regime to legalize the crime of torture, noting that this takes place despite the fact the current Syrian constitution, issued in 2012 by Decree No. 94, expressly prohibits arbitrary arrest and torture according to Article 53, and the General Penal Code in accordance with Article 391 imposing a penalty of from three months to three years in prison for anyone who beats a person with a degree of severity during the investigation of crimes, and prohibiting torture during investigation in accordance with Article 391; however, legal texts have been introduced which explicitly oppose the previous constitutional articles and Article 391, giving almost complete immunity to the security services and legalizing impunity, such as Legislative Decree No. 14 of January 25, 1969, Article / 74 / of the Internal Security Law of the State Security Department and the rules of service for its employees issued by Legislative Decree No. 549 of May 25, 1969, Legislative Decree No. 69 of 2008, and Decree No. (55) issued on April 21, 2011.
The report further explains that, under the current Syrian regime, Syria suffers from two primary legislative problems; the first in terms of the legal texts themselves, and the second in terms of applying the law, noting that these legal texts, which express a commitment to ensuring impunity, along with the Syrian regime’s failure to carry out any investigation or accountability for any member of the regime’s security forces, no matter how low-ranking, against the background of acts of torture, have all contributed to increasing the rate of torture. Indeed, the regime’s security services, in coordination with some doctors in military hospitals, are so sure of their impunity that they have invented new and horrific methods of torture that are even more brutal and savage than their usual methods.
The report reveals that other parties to the conflict have also established courts to try their detainees in accordance with procedures that are, to a great extent, similar to the courts affiliated with the Syrian regime. Extremist Islamist groups have established Sharia courts made up of sharia judges or security personnel and issued sentences according to their extremist ideology. As for the areas under opposition control, these have established courts which operate according to amended forms of existing Syrian laws. Syrian Democratic Forces, meanwhile, have established the ‘people’s courts’ and established their own laws and legislation derived from the Syrian laws, with all these courts following the policy of exceptional courts by holding brief proceedings, essentially amounting to kangaroo trials, to try the cases before them without any considerations of the fundamental standards of fair trails, and relying mainly on the jurisprudence of judges, most of whom are unqualified or illegal.
The report further notes that the Syrian regime has issued nearly 17 amnesty decrees, the last of which was in March 2020, and many of which were similar to one another and focused on securing the release of perpetrators of crimes, felonies and offences, while including only a very small number of detainees referred to exceptional courts such as the Counter-Terrorism Court and the military field courts, and excluding the largest proportion of detainees who were not subjected to any trial during the years of their detention, who have been classified as forcibly disappeared.
The report notes that detainees held by Syrian Regime forces are subjected to exceptionally brutal and sadistic methods of torture, and subjected to unimaginably squalid, unsanitary and massively overcrowded conditions in its detention centers without even the bare minimum of hygiene or sanitation to protect against illness and disease. The report also notes that these brutal conditions being a very deliberate and widespread strategy on the part of the Syrian regime with the aim of debasing and torturing detainees. Subjecting detainees to conditions that foster disease and infection and leaving them to suffer without medical help or treatment is another deliberate and conscious part of this strategy, forcing already physically and emotionally traumatized detainees to endure an additional layer of torment and debasement often leading to death. The report warns of the increasing danger facing prisoners in regime detention centers with the global spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in light of the brutal detention conditions that are favorable for the spread of infectious diseases such as the COVID-19 coronavirus; this now threatens the lives of approximately 130,000 people who are still documented as being detained or forcibly disappeared by Syrian Regime forces, according to the SNHR database.
The report documents at least 157 cases of arbitrary arrests/ detention in July 2020, including 13 children and two women (adult female), 92 of which have subsequently been categorized as cases of enforced disappearance, all at the hands of the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria, with 69 of these carried out at the hands of Syrian Regime forces, including two children and two women, 41 of whom have subsequently been categorized as cases of enforced disappearance. It also documents 61 cases of arbitrary arrests/ detention at the hands of Syrian Democratic Forces, including 11 children, 35 of whom have subsequently been categorized as cases of enforced disappearance.
The report also documents 18 cases of arbitrary arrests/ detention at the hands of the Armed Opposition and Syrian National Army, 11 of whom have subsequently been categorized as cases of enforced disappearance. In addition, Hay’at Tahrir al Sham arrested nine individuals, five of whom have subsequently been categorized as cases of enforced disappearance.
The report also shows the distribution of cases of arbitrary arrests in July by governorate, with Deir Ez-Zour seeing the largest number of arrests documented during this period, followed by the governorates of Aleppo, then Damascus.
The report notes that the issue of detainees and forcibly disappeared persons is one of the most crucial human rights issues in Syria which there has been no progress in resolving despite its inclusion in several resolutions of the UN Security Council, as well as in UN General Assembly resolutions, in Kofi Annan’s plan, and finally in the statement of cessation of hostilities issued in February 2016, and in Security Council resolution 2254 of December 2015, article 12, which states that all detainees, especially women and children, must be released immediately. Despite all these resolutions and other official statements, no progress has been made on the issue of securing the release of detainees in any of the rounds of negotiations sponsored by international parties regarding the conflict in Syria. The International Committee of the Red Cross has been unable to conduct any periodic visits to any of these detention centers, constituting a violation of International Humanitarian Law.
The report stresses that the Syrian regime has not fulfilled any of its obligations in any of the international treaties and conventions it has ratified, most particularly the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It has also violated several articles of the Syrian Constitution itself, with thousands of detainees detained without any arrest warrant for many years, without charges, and prevented from appointing a lawyer and from receiving family visits. 65.08 percent of all detentions documented have subsequently been categorized as enforced disappearance cases, with detainees’ families being denied any information on their loved ones’ whereabouts, while anyone making enquiries about the detainees faces the risk of being arrested themselves for doing so.
The report notes that the other parties (Syrian Democratic Forces, Hay’at Tahrir al Sham and the Armed Opposition/ The Syrian National Army) are all obliged to implement the provisions of international human rights law, and that they have committed widespread violations through arrests and enforced disappearances.
The report calls on the Security Council to follow through in the implementation of Resolution 2042, adopted on April 14, 2012, Resolution 2043, adopted on April 21, 2012, and Resolution 2139, adopted on February 22, 2014, all of which demand the immediate cessation of the crime of enforced disappearance.
The report provides a set of recommendations to the Human Rights Council, to the Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI), and to the International, Impartial, and Independent Mechanism (IIIM).
The report calls on the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces to immediately end arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances, to reveal the fate of all arrested/ detained and forcibly disappeared persons, to allow their families to visit them, and to hand over the bodies of detainees who were killed as a result of torture to their families.
The report also calls on them to unconditionally release all detainees who have been imprisoned merely for exercising their political and civil rights and to publish a register containing the detainees’ data together with the reasons for their detention, the locations where they are held, and the sentences issued.
The report stresses that the UN and the guarantor parties at Astana should form an impartial special committee to monitor cases of arbitrary arrest, and reveal the fate of the 98,000 missing persons in Syria, approximately 85 percent of whom are detained by the Syrian regime. The report adds that pressure should be applied on all parties to immediately reveal their detention records in accordance with a timetable, and to immediately make detainees’ whereabouts public, and allow human rights groups and the International Committee of Red Cross to have direct access to them.
Lastly, the report emphasizes that children and women should be released, and families and friends should not be taken as prisoners of war. The report calls on the official newly appointed to take charge of the detainees’ file at the UN special envoy’s office to include the issue of detainees at the upcoming rounds of Geneva talks, as this issue is of far greater importance to the Syrian people than other longer-term issues that can be jointly addressed later, such as the constitution.