Hay’at Tahrir al Sham Continues to Commit Multiple Types of Human Rights Violations, Mainly in Its Detention Centers
Press release (Link below to download full report):
Paris – In its report released today on the most notable Hay’at Tahrir al Sham (HTS) violations since the establishment of Jabhat al Nusra to date, the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) reveals that Hay’at Tahrir al Sham continues to commit multiple types of human rights violations, mainly in its detention centers. The report documents the deaths of at least 505 civilians at the hands of HTS, including 71 children, 77 women, and 28 deaths due to torture, in addition to at least 2,327 individuals who are still arbitrarily detained or forcibly disappeared by HTS.
The 73-page report provides a brief background on Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, addresses the reality of the curtailment of rights and freedoms in the areas under HTS control, details the HTS’ judicial system and al Hesba Apparatus, and talks about HTS’ detention centers, in addition to the methods of torture practiced in these centers. The report additionally provides a summary of the most notable violations by Hay’at Tahrir al Sham since the announcement of the establishment of Jabhat al Nusra in Syria in January 2012 until the end of 2021.
This report relies mainly on the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) team’s continuous daily monitoring and documentation of violations committed by Jabhat al Nusra, which went on to become Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, indicating that there has been a significant change in the areas that have been brought under Jabhat al Nusra/Jabhat Fateh al Sham/HTS’ control since 2012 up to the current date. The report notes that most of the violations have been concentrated in those areas of Idlib and Aleppo governorates that were subject to HTS’ control, especially since these areas were under HTS control for longer periods of time compared to areas in other governorates, such as Deir Ez-Zour, Hama or Damascus Suburbs.
The report’s methodology is based on interviews conducted with witnesses, survivors, victims’ families, local activists, lawyers, judicial workers, and former members of opposition factions. Although the SNHR team interviewed around 85 people while conducting research for this report, the report contains excerpts from only 22 of these interviews. This report is concerned primarily with HTS’ lack of respect for international humanitarian law during battles with adversaries in connection with the internal armed conflict, as well as more broadly on providing details of the basic rights and freedoms of individuals in areas under HTS control. In this context, the report notes that the term ‘control’ does not refer only to military hegemony or management of economic resources or to a political role, but most importantly to the respect shown for the human rights of the population in the areas under the group’s control since this respect, rather than superior military power and dominance, is the source of the controlling forces’ internal legitimacy.
As the report reveals, the judicial system, which is made up of many judicial bodies, which are almost entirely separate from each other with no coordination among them, does not base its decisions on specific and known judicial rulings and regulations, instead relying mainly on ministerial circulars and instructions, which are considered to be the legal code regulating the work of the courts, as well as depending mainly on ministerial circulars and instructions that are the closest thing to legislation in regulating the courts’ work, with no formal law governing the procedures regulating the work of the courts, except for “the Code of Procedure”. The judiciary also depends on students of religion or law in many administrative and judicial positions, with these students being either affiliated with or blindly loyal to HTS, leading to an overall lack of legal expertise, independence, and efficiency among HTS’ judiciary.
Between the beginning of 2012 and December 2021, the report documents the deaths of at least 505 civilians, including 71 children and 77 women, at the hands of Hay’at Tahrir al Sham. As the chart provided in the report shows, this death toll was distributed as follows: 371 civilians, including 69 children and 67 women, were killed through unlawful combat attacks; 28 civilians, including 2 children, were killed due to torture and neglect of health care; and 106 civilians, including 10 women, were killed by execution following summary and arbitrary trial proceedings.
Data analysis shows that 2014 was the worst year to date in terms of the death toll from extrajudicial killings of Hay’at Tahrir al Sham’s victims, followed by 2013 and 2015 with an equal number of victims, then 2019. Meanwhile, another chart in the report shows the distribution of the death toll of extrajudicial killings at the hands of HTS according to the Syrian governorates from which the victims originated; the highest death toll from extrajudicial killings was seen in Idlib governorate, which accounted for approximately 35% of the total, followed by Homs, Aleppo and Hama.
As the report reveals, at least 2,327 of the individuals, including 43 children and 44 women (adult female), detained by HTS since the announcement of the establishment of HTS’ forerunner in early 2012 are still either arbitrarily detained or forcibly disappeared by the group as of December 2021. At least 2,103 of these individuals, including 19 children and 28 women, have been forcibly disappeared. According to the cumulative linear graph of this record, 2015 was the worst year in terms of the numbers of detentions/enforced disappearances, followed by 2018, 2019, then 2017. The report also provides a chart of the record of detainees/forcibly disappeared persons held by Hay’at Tahrir al Sham according to the Syrian governorates from which the victims originated, which shows that Idlib governorate is ahead of all other governorates, accounting for 67% of the total, followed by Aleppo, Hama, then Damascus Suburbs.
The report explains that Hay’at Tahrir al Sham follows a calculated policy of persecution based on first summoning opposition activists, protesters, and critics of the Salvation Government’s policies for questioning in order to restrict their activities by coercion or intimidation, with this stage being viewed as both a warning and a threat. By pursuing this policy rather than immediately detaining critics, HTS avoids sudden detentions, providing itself with a superficial appearance of being reasonable in front of society and even the activists’ families. This policy of issuing initial ‘warnings’ has been used mainly with prominent activists and social figures. By contrast, with ordinary civilians whose arrest is unlikely to provoke any public outcry or reaction, HTS simply arrests them directly, without resorting to this preliminary stage, which includes asking activists to pledge not to repeat what they are accused of doing, and even to apologize, and ask for mercy. Summoned persons often acquiesce and pay a fine, which may be accompanied by a few days’ imprisonment and suspension from practicing their profession, all in exchange for not being detained or forcibly disappeared for years. In this context, the report documents at least 273 cases of summonses/threats issued by HTS between 2017 and December 2021. We have found clear evidence of coordination between the various security apparatuses and the civil and judicial institutions established by HTS (which it denies being linked to) in organizing and issuing these summons/threats.
The report also reveals the existence of at least 46 permanent detention centers affiliated with Hay’at Tahrir al Sham in Idlib governorate, the western suburbs of Aleppo governorate, and Latakia suburbs in northwest Syria. The report estimates that these detention centers hold approximately 2,327 detainees either imprisoned or forcibly disappeared by HTS, dozens of whom have spent long periods of up to five years in detention, with the vast majority of these prisoners categorized as forcibly disappeared, and almost all also subjected to some form of torture. In addition, the report also reveals the existence of at least 116 temporary detention centers, in which the investigations and interrogations took place, as well as providing a detailed presentation of the most prominent of these centers.
As the report further reveals, Hay’at Tahrir al Sham uses multiple torture methods within its detention centers, which are similar or identical to a great extent to the torture methods practiced by the Syrian regime in its detention centers. The report provides brief summaries of the 22 most notable torture methods characteristic of HTS, distributing these into three main categories, namely 13 physical torture methods; 8 psychological torture methods; and forced labor. The report also provides sketches depicting these torture methods.
The report reveals that Syrian women in the areas controlled by HTS suffer from negative discrimination generally, with their suffering increasing exponentially if they are working or wishing to work in public affairs, or in civil society organizations of whatever kind, whether media, relief-oriented, or political. The report documents many incidents in which women who have been involved in public affairs have been subjected to harassment and intimidation in an effort to force them to abandon their work. In a related context, the report documents at least 108 incidents in which women were targeted because of their work or opposition to HTS practices during the period from the beginning of 2014 until December 2021.
The report stresses that HTS is a major military party to the internal armed conflict in Syria, stressing that it must abide by the customary rules of international humanitarian law since it has controlled large areas since its establishment to date, and, therefore, as a dominant force with a political structure and entity, it must abide by the principles of international human rights law. The report adds that HTS has clearly violated the principles of distinction and proportionality in many bombardment incidents, with some attacks causing material and human losses. Such indiscriminate attacks on populated areas constitute a terrible violation of international humanitarian law.
HTS is also responsible for numerous and widespread violations of international human rights law against the people in the areas under its control, such as kidnappings, arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances and torture, and through issuing unfair rulings issued by courts that in no way comply with the basic rules of fair trials.
The report calls on the UN Security Council not to delay the completion of its efforts to bring a satisfactory resolution to the conflict in Syria, warning that any failure to do so will contribute to strengthening the power of HTS and spreading extremist ideology, leading to the continuation of tyranny and human rights violations. The report also calls on the Security Council to take serious steps to end the conflict in Syria, including setting a strict timetable for the political transition process in accordance with Security Council Resolution 2254, as this process has been stagnant since the Geneva Communiqué of June 2012 to date.
The report additionally recommends that the international community and influential states should support vital civil society organizations in areas of northern Syria, which stand as a line of defense against extremist organizations by spreading awareness and providing services, and to support the formation of a local police apparatus that is strong and coherent to defend the residents against abductions and assaults, which should pave the way to relative stability and security.
The report furthermore calls on the international community and influential states to add the Iranian, Iraqi and other Shiite extremist organizations, which are openly supported by the state of Iran, to the lists of designated terrorist organizations and to target and obstruct these entities in line with other extremist Islamist groups.
The report also provides several other additional recommendations.