Arbitrary Arrest/ Enforced Disappearance Continues, Targeting and Gagging the Whole of Syrian Society
Press release (Link below to download full report):
Paris – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) announced in its latest report, released today, that it documented at least 972 cases of arbitrary arrests/ detentions in the first half of 2021, including 45 children and 42 women, noting that arbitrary arrest/ enforced disappearance continues, targeting and gagging the whole of Syrian society.
The 24-page report explains that 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. Every 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.
This report outlines the record of arbitrary arrests/ detentions it recorded in June and the first half of 2021 by the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria, as well as shedding light on the most notable individual cases and incidents of arbitrary arrest and detention that the SNHR’s team documented during the same period, 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.
The report notes that Syrian regime forces have continued to persecute and target Syrian citizens in areas under regime control in connection with their political dissent and expression of opinions, despite the right to both being guaranteed by the constitution and international law. This proves once again the truth of the crucial point which we have reiterated several times previously, namely that no Syrian citizen can feel safe from arrest since these are carried out without any basis in law or any oversight by any independent judiciary, and are perpetrated by the security services with no involvement by the judiciary. Following these arrests, detainees are routinely classified as forcibly disappeared persons, and therefore the areas under the control of the Syrian regime cannot be considered to constitute any sort of safe haven for residents there; all this underlines the fact that regime-controlled areas of Syria are very definitely not a safe haven for the return of refugees or IDPs. The report stresses that there will be no stability or safety in light of the survival of the regime’s brutal security services, who have committed crimes against humanity since 2011 and are still continuing to do so up to the current date. The report adds that among the arrests and detentions documented by SNHR in June and the first half of 2021 were those by Syrian regime forces showing that at the beginning of January, the Syrian regime made a series of appointments and transfers of administrative positions and senior officers in several security branches in the Syrian governorates, which SNHR believes to be the reason for the decrease in the number of arrests by the regime by the end of January; despite this, regime forces have continued to persecute and arrest individuals who had concluded settlements of their security status with the regime in areas that had previously concluded settlement agreements with it; these arrests have been concentrated in Aleppo, Damascus Suburbs and Daraa governorates, with these operations continuing throughout the first half of 2021, mostly taking place during campaigns of mass raids and arrests and at checkpoints.
The report also records arrests, most of which were carried out by the regime’s criminal security branches spread across Syrian governorates, targeting pro-regime media workers over filming reports critical of state employees’ practices in state-run institutions, as well as arbitrary arrests targeting citizens, including university students, lawyers and state employees, over their criticism of the difficult living conditions in the areas controlled by the Syrian regime. The report further reveals that March saw arrests in connection with involvement in activities commemorating the popular uprising for democracy in Syria. The report also documents arrests targeting civilians, including children and women, in Tartus governorate on the Syrian coast, from where they had been trying to emigrate illegally to Cyprus. In addition, the report documents arrests targeting civilians on the grounds that they did not participate in the ‘presidential elections’ held on May 26.
During the same period, the report reveals, SNHR also documented a sharp increase in the number of cases and incidents of arrests/ detentions by Syrian Democratic Forces, whose methods and high number of detentions were similar to those of the Syrian regime, which is the perpetrator of most of arbitrary arrests/ enforced disappearances and of torture.
Syrian Democratic Forces also carried out arrests targeting teachers and students over their participation in protests held to condemn the earlier arrest of other teachers by the SDF, which also targeted teachers with arrest in connection with their teaching educational curricula other than those imposed by SDF or against the background of forced conscription. Syrian Democratic Forces also carried out campaigns of mass raids and arrests in June and the first half of 2021, targeting many civilians on the pretext of fighting ISIS cells, with some of these campaigns backed by US-led coalition helicopters. The report also documents arrests targeting media activists, and others targeting medical personnel, which were accompanied by attacks on medical facilities, in addition to documenting arrests targeting members of the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s Area Committee, with these arrests concentrated in Hasaka governorate.
The report also notes that Hay’at Tahrir al Sham has continued targeting activists and workers with humanitarian organizations with detentions, most of which were in connection with the detainees expressing opinions critical of HTS’s management of areas under its control, or on other charges such as colluding with Syrian Democratic Forces. These detentions were carried out arbitrarily in the form of raids in which HTS members stormed their victims’ homes, often breaking down the doors, or by kidnapping their victims while they were traveling or passing through temporary checkpoints, or through issuing summons for interrogation by the Ministry of Justice of the HTS’ Salvation Government. The report also records cases of detentions at HTS checkpoints on charges of breaking the fast during the month of Ramadan.
Meanwhile, the Armed Opposition/ Syrian National Army also carried out arbitrary detentions and kidnappings, most of them on a mass scale, targeting IDP civilians and activists, under the pretext of having kinship with ISIS, the largest of which was in January, before releasing them later. The report also documents mass arrests targeting those coming from areas under the control of the Syrian regime, as well as detentions carried out under an ethnic pretext, with these incidents being concentrated in areas under the Armed Opposition/ Syrian National Army’s control in Aleppo governorate. Most of these arrests occurred without judicial authorization and without the participation of the police force, which is the legitimate administrative authority responsible for arrests and detentions through the judiciary, as well as being carried out without presenting any clear charges against those being detained. The report also records detentions targeting women under the pretext that they were trying to cross the Turkish border illegally, before releasing them later. The report also documents the beating of a lawyer working in a court located in an area under the Armed Opposition/ Syrian National Army’s control.
In June, Syrian regime forces carried out arrests in Daraa governorate targeting former civil service workers who were working in several areas when those areas were not under regime forces’ control, in addition to documenting arrests targeting civilians on the grounds that they did not participate in the ‘presidential elections’ held on May 26, during campaigns of mass raids and arrests. These arrests were concentrated in Damascus Suburbs governorate.
In the context of cases in which individuals were released in June, the report records the release of at least 117 detainees held by the Syrian regime, all of them from Damascus Suburbs and Daraa governorates. The release was the result of a reconciliation process carried out by the Syrian regime in Damascus Suburbs governorate, with the period of detention for most ranging between one and three years, with in extremely poor conditions which included being subjected to torture, and enduring an almost complete lack of healthcare and medical care, and severe overcrowding, while all had been arrested during raids or while passing through the regime’s checkpoints, without receiving any explanation of the reasons for their detention and without any arrest warrants being provided. The report also documents in June that Syrian regime forces released 16 detainees, mostly from the governorates of Damascus Suburbs, Daraa and Deir Ez-Zour, from regime detention centers in Damascus governorate after the end of their arbitrarily imposed sentences, with their release not being linked to the reconciliation processes carried out by the Syrian regime in Syrian governorate; the former detainees spent an average period of one to five years in the Syrian regime’s detention centers, while all had been arrested without receiving any explanation of the reasons for their detention and without any arrest warrants being provided.
As the report reveals, Syrian Democratic Forces continued enforcing the group’s policies of arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance in June, with the number increasing this month. The report also documents arrests targeting journalists and media activists, which were concentrated in the governorates of Hasaka and Raqqa.
As for Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, the report stresses that June also saw Hay’at Tahrir al Sham detaining civilians, who were accused of communicating with Syrian regime forces to conduct reconciliation and return to the areas controlled by Syrian regime forces.
As the report reveals, the Armed Opposition/ Syrian National Army also continued carrying out arbitrary detentions and kidnappings in June, most of which were carried out on a mass scale, targeting individuals coming from areas controlled by the Syrian regime.
The report documents at least 972 cases of arbitrary arrests/ detentions in the first half of 2021, including 45 children and 43 women (adult female), 755 of which have subsequently been categorized as cases of enforced disappearance, with 384 of these carried out at the hands of Syrian regime forces, including 11 children and 10 women. It also documents 369 cases of arbitrary arrests/ detentions at the hands of Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, including 29 children and three women.
The report documents 162 cases of arbitrary arrests/ detentions, including five children and 29 women, at the hands of the Armed Opposition/ Syrian National Army. In addition, 57 cases of arbitrary arrests/ detentions were recorded at the hands of Hay’at Tahrir al Sham.
The report also shows the distribution of cases of arbitrary arrests in the first half of 2021 by Syrian governorates, with Deir Ez-Zour seeing the largest number of arrests documented during this period, followed by the governorates of Aleppo, Hasaka, Raqqa then Daraa.
The report documents at least 136 cases of arbitrary arrest/ detention in June 2021, including two children and two women, with 123 of these cases subsequently categorized as cases of enforced disappearance, all at the hands of the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria; 74 of these, including two children and two women, were carried out at the hands of Syrian regime forces, while Syrian Democratic Forces detained 34 individuals. The report also notes that the Armed Opposition/ Syrian National Army detained 19 civilians, while Hay’at Tahrir al Sham detained nine civilians.
The report also shows the distribution of cases of arbitrary arrests in June across the governorates, with Damascus Suburbs seeing the largest number of arrests documented during this period, followed by Daraa, Deir Ez-Zour, Aleppo then Raqqa governorate.
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 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 UN Security Council resolutions, 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 percent of all detentions documented have subsequently been categorized as enforced disappearance cases.
The report notes that the other parties (Syrian Democratic Forces, Hay’at Tahrir al Sham and the Armed Opposition/ Syrian National Army) are also 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, which demand the immediate cessation of the crime of enforced disappearance.
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 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 99,000 missing persons in Syria, 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 humanitarian organizations 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 of detainees or wanted individuals should not be detained as prisoners of war, with the report also providing additional recommendations.