Any Openness to the Syrian Regime Means an Escalation of Restrictions, Arrests, Torture and Enforced Disappearances
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 2,218 cases of arbitrary arrests/ detentions in 2021, 242 of them in December; detainees in 2021 include 85 children and 77 women, with SNHR stressing that any openness to the Syrian regime means an escalation of restrictions, arrests, torture and enforced disappearances.
The 45-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 both in the past month of December and in the whole 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 main issues concerning arrests and detentions documented by SNHR in December and in the whole of 2021 were that the Syrian regime, at the beginning of January, made a series of appointments and transfers of administrative positions and senior officers in several security branches in the Syrian governorates, with SNHR believing that these measures were the reason for the reduction in the number of arrests by the regime by the end of the same month; 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 2021, mostly taking place during campaigns of mass raids and arrests and at checkpoints.
The report refers to arrests, most of which were carried out by the regime’s criminal security branches spread across Syrian governorates, targeting pro-regime media workers and civilians, including university students, lawyers and state employees, over their criticism of the difficult living conditions and the regime’s governmental corruption in the areas controlled by the Syrian regime. As the report reveals, March saw arrests carried out by the Syrian regime against Syrian citizens in connection with their involvement in activities connected with the popular uprising for democracy in Syria. The report also documents arrests carried out by Syrian regime forces in connection with civilians trying to migrate illegally by sea and via multiple land border crossings, as well as arrests targeting civilians while they were visiting the Immigration and Passports offices in Syrian cities to obtain documents related to traveling abroad. In addition, the report records nearly 218 arrests of returnees (refugees and IDPs) to areas under the control of Syrian regime forces, including seven children. The report also documents arrests targeting civilians on the grounds that they did not participate in the ‘presidential elections’ held on May 26. As the report reveals, the year 2021 saw random arrests targeting civilians, including elderly people, women and children, concentrated in many areas of Daraa governorate in connection with the deteriorating security conditions and the residents’ rejection of the regime forces’ security presence in their areas. The report also documents arrests targeting a number of civilian traders and merchants, in connection with their stopping their commercial activities and attempting to leave the country, with these detainees charged with carrying out acts that would harm the ‘prestige’ of the Syrian state.
In terms of releases from prisons and detention centers in 2021, the report records that Syrian regime forces released at least 691 individuals, including 55 children and 36 women, distributed according to their background as follows: 343 individuals – most of them from the governorates of Daraa and Damascus Suburbs – were released in the context of the reconciliation and settlement agreements carried out by the Syrian regime in both governorates; 218 individuals were released from civil prisons in various governorates, after the end of their arbitrarily imposed sentences, with their release not being linked to the Amnesty Decree No. 13 of 2021; 24 individuals were released from the security branches without having undergone any trials, following detention for periods ranging from a couple of weeks to two months; 106 individuals were released from detention centers in connection with the issuance of the Amnesty Decree No. 13 of 2021.
As the report reveals, the released detainees spent their periods of arrest/ detention in extremely poor conditions which included being subjected to torture, and endured an almost complete lack of healthcare and medical care, along with severe overcrowding; all had been arrested without receiving any explanation of the reasons for their detention and without any arrest warrants being provided.
Meanwhile, Syrian Democratic Forces continued enforcing the group’s policies of arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance throughout 2021, targeting activists and members of civil society groups who oppose their policies. The report also records SDF carrying out mass raids and arrests of civilians, media activists and members of the Kurdistan Democratic Party who took part in anti-SDF demonstrations in areas under its control, as well as targeting civilians for their kinship relationships with individuals in the Armed Opposition/ the Syrian National Army. The report also documents detentions of teachers and students over their participation in protests held to condemn the earlier arrest of other teachers by the SDF, as well as detentions targeting students, teachers and members of the Christian Syriac Orthodox Creed Council, over their criticism of and refusal to adopt the educational curriculum imposed by the SDF in areas under its control. In December, as throughout the whole of 2021, SDF carried out campaigns of mass raids and detentions, targeting civilians on the supposed pretext of fighting ISIS cells, with some of these campaigns backed by US-led coalition helicopters, and other campaigns targeting media activists, as well as medical personnel, which were accompanied by attacks on medical facilities. The report also records Syrian Democratic Forces detaining children with the aim of taking them to its training and recruitment camps and forcibly conscripting them.
In the context of cases in which individuals have been released, the report documents in 2021 that Syrian Democratic Forces released 269 civilians, including two women, from SDF detention centers. The duration of detention for those released ranged from eight months to two years, with most being released as a result of tribal mediation.
As the report further documents, 2021 also saw Hay’at Tahrir al Sham carrying out detentions of civilians, including activists and workers with civil society groups; most of these arrests occurred due to the detainees expressing opinions critical of the 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.
All Armed Opposition factions/ Syrian National Army also carried out arbitrary detentions and kidnappings in 2021, most of which were carried out on a mass scale, targeting those coming from areas under the control of the Syrian regime. In addition, in December and throughout 2021, the report records detentions carried out under an ethnic pretext, with these incidents being concentrated in areas under all Armed Opposition factions/ 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.
In December, the report records Syrian regime forces carrying out arrests targeting university students while they were travelling from their homes in Damascus suburbs to Damascus University in Damascus city, in addition to arrests targeting many civilian members of one family from Suwayda governorate, as well as recording random arrests of citizens in Damascus Suburbs governorate, with most of these occurring during campaigns of mass raids and arrests.
In terms of releases from prisons and detention centers in December, the report documents the release of at least 41 detainees held by the Syrian regime, all from Daraa governorate, including three children and six military personnel, who were released from regime detention centers. The release was the result of a reconciliation process carried out by the Syrian regime in Daraa governorate. The report also records the release of 11 detainees held by the Syrian regime, most of them from Damascus Suburbs governorate, who were released from regime detention centers, after the end of their arbitrarily imposed sentences, with their release not being linked to the Amnesty Decree No. 13 of 2021.
As the report reveals, all Armed Opposition factions/ Syrian National Army carried out raids and detentions, targeting civilians on charges of collaborating with Syrian Democratic Forces. These arrests were concentrated in some villages of Afrin city in the suburbs of Aleppo governorate.
The report documents at least 2,218 cases of arbitrary arrest/ detention in 2021, including 85 children and 77 women, 1,752 of whom 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 1,032 of these, including 19 children and 23 women, carried out by Syrian regime forces. It also documents 645 cases of arbitrary arrest/ detention at the hands of Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, including 59 children and seven women. The report also documents 420 cases of arbitrary arrest/ detention, including six children and 47 women, at the hands of all Armed Opposition factions/ Syrian National Army, in addition to 121 cases of arbitrary arrest/ detention, including one child, at the hands of Hay’at Tahrir al Sham.
The report also shows the distribution of cases of arbitrary arrest in 2021 by Syrian governorate, with Aleppo seeing the largest number of arbitrary arrests documented during this period, followed by the governorates of Deir Ez-Zour, Damascus suburbs, then Hasaka.
The report documents at least 242 cases of arbitrary arrest/ detention in December 2021, including four children and four women, with 198 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; 143 of these, including three women, were carried out at the hands of Syrian regime forces, while Syrian Democratic Forces detained 47 individuals, including four children and one woman. The report also notes that all Armed Opposition factions/ Syrian National Army detained 41 civilians, while Hay’at Tahrir al Sham detained 11 civilians.
The report also shows the distribution of cases of arbitrary arrests in December across the governorates, with Aleppo seeing the largest number of arrests documented during this period, followed by the governorates of Damascus suburbs, Damascus, Hasaka then Deir Ez-Zour.
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.
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. 68 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 all Armed Opposition factions/ 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, Resolution 2043, and Resolution 2139.
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 102,000 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.