The Syrian Regime Violates International and Local Law Through Arbitrary Arrest, Enforced Disappearance, and Torture
Paris – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) announced in its latest report, released today, that it documented at least 173 arbitrary arrests/detentions in March 2022, including four children and five women, noting that the Syrian regime violates international and local law through arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance, and torture.
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 documented by SNHR in March 2022 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 subsequently turned into enforced disappearances.
As the report notes, the laws and texts related to torture in the current Syrian constitution and law have not ended or reduced the frequency of torture in the Syrian regime’s detention centers. As the report explains, the state’s heavily centralized control of its detention centers means that it is highly unlikely that deaths due to torture could take place without the knowledge of the ruling regime. The report further notes that the Syrian regime bears responsibility for proving its claims that the deaths that occurred were not due to torture. The report emphasizes that this systematic torture and the many associated deaths involve not just one of the Syrian regime’s organs, but require the participation of several state institutions, the most prominent of which are: the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Defense, the security services, civil prisons, military hospitals, the judiciary, the Ministry of Awqaf, and the Office of Burial Services; this too indicates a high level of coordination and harmony between these institutions, which can only be achieved by senior-level management officials in the Syrian regime controlling all of these institutions.
In a related context, the report referred to Law No. 16 for 2022, issued by the Syrian regime’s President on March 30, 2022, criminalizing torture. The new legislation claims that the regime considers torture to be a felony requiring severe punishment for its perpetrator, or for those who participated in it, as well as those who provoked it. The report provides six key points demonstrating fundamental flaws in the text of the law itself, adding that this law will remain meaningless ink on paper and will not contribute in any way to deterring the security services from practicing torture as long as the regime’s other repressive laws are in force, which are the ones on which the regime is based, including the texts that grant impunity to members of the security services from prosecution, conflicting with many articles of the General Penal Code and the current constitution; the survival of the exceptional criminal courts (military field court, counter-terrorism court) in Damascus; authorization of regime security services to investigate citizens for a period that often exceeds two months; the failure to reform the prison organization or subject it to judicial supervision; and the Executive Authority encroaching on the judiciary.
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 March were those by Syrian regime forces that continued in March to persecute and arrest individuals who had concluded settlements of their security status with the Syrian regime in areas that had previously concluded settlement agreements with the regime; these arrests have been concentrated in Damascus Suburbs, Daraa, and Aleppo governorates, with most occurring during campaigns of mass raids and arrests and at checkpoints.
The report also documents arrests by Syrian regime forces in Homs city in connection with residents’ involvement in activities commemorating the anniversary of the popular uprising for democracy in Syria. In addition, the report records random incidents of arrests of citizens in Damascus Suburbs governorate and Hama city, with most occurring during campaigns of mass raids and arrests under the pretext of those arrested having failed to perform their reserve military service. The report also documents random arrests targeting a number of returning civilians, all refugees and IDPs, after they returned to their original areas, now back under the control of Syrian regime forces.
In the context of cases in which individuals were released in March, the report records the release of at least 14 detainees, including one woman, held by the Syrian regime, most of them from Damascus Suburbs, Aleppo, and Suwayda governorates, who were released after the end of their arbitrarily imposed sentences. As the report further reveals, the former detainees spent an average period of between one and 10 years in the Syrian regime’s detention centers, where they were kept 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 without receiving any explanation of the reasons for their detention and without any arrest warrants being provided.
Syrian Democratic Forces continued enforcing the group’s policies of arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance in March. The report records campaigns of mass raids and detentions carried out by SDF personnel targeting civilians on the pretext of fighting ISIS cells, with some of these campaigns backed by US-led coalition helicopters. The report also documents detentions targeting civilians, including teachers and students. These arrests were concentrated in Hasaka city. In addition to these cases, the report documents a number of arrests that were accompanied by the burning of some civilian homes in Darnaj village in the suburbs of Deir Ez-Zour governorate, in connection with an anti-SDF demonstration in the village. The report adds that Syrian Democratic Forces kidnapped children in March with the aim of taking them to its training and recruitment camps and forcibly conscripting them, preventing their families from communicating with them, and failing to disclose their fate.
As for Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, the report documents a number of detentions of civilians carried out by the group in March. These arrests occurred due to the detainees expressing opinions critical of the HTS’s management of areas under its control. 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 through abducting their victims while they were traveling or passing through temporary checkpoints. The report also records Hay’at Tahrir al Sham personnel detaining humanitarian organizations’ staff members after they were summoned to the Organizations Management Center in al Ma’mal al Azraq, ‘the Blue Laboratory’, north of Sarmada city in the northern suburbs of Idlib governorate.
As the report reveals, all Armed Opposition factions/Syrian National Army also continued carrying out arbitrary detentions and kidnappings in March, most of which were carried out on a mass scale, targeting individuals coming from areas controlled by the Syrian regime. In addition, we documented 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, with these arrests also carried out without presenting any clear charges against those being detained. The report also documents raids and detentions carried out by Syrian National Army personnel, targeting civilians, including women, over their participation in celebrations marking Nowruz. These operations were concentrated in some villages nearby Afrin city in the suburbs of Aleppo governorate.
The report documents at least 173 arbitrary arrests/detentions in March 2022, including four children and five women, with 132 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; 73 of these, including one woman, were carried out at the hands of Syrian regime forces, while the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces detained 49 individuals, including four children and one woman. The report also notes that all Armed Opposition factions/Syrian National Army detained 37 individuals, including two women, while Hay’at Tahrir al Sham detained 14 individuals, including one woman.
The report also shows the distribution of cases of arbitrary arrests/detentions in March across the governorates. The analysis of the data for this period shows that Aleppo governorate saw the highest rates of arbitrary arrests/detentions, followed by the governorates of Raqqa, Damascus Suburbs, Idlib, Deir Ez-Zour, then Daraa.
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, relief activists, and similar prisoners of conscience, have been accused by the regime’s security branches of several charges based on testimonies taken from detainees by regime personnel 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.
In the report, SNHR again 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 immediately be released from captivity, and families and friends of detainees or wanted individuals should not be detained as prisoners of war, with the report also providing additional recommendations.