The Syrian Regime’s Security Services Are Placed Above the Laws, While None of Those Involved in the Crime of Torture, Which Constitutes a Crime against Humanity, Have Been Held Accountable
Paris – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) reveals in its report released today that the ‘Laws’ 15 and 16 issued by the Syrian regime are textually flawed and impossible to implement. The report explains the reasons for this assessment in detail, adding that the Syrian regime’s security services are placed above the laws, meaning that none of those involved in the crime of torture, which constitutes a crime against humanity, have been held accountable.
The 14-page report notes that the Syrian regime has recently issued Law No. 16 of 2022 criminalizing torture as a pro forma response to a Dutch/Canadian move before the International Court of Justice, explaining that it is a law impossible to implement in light of the existing repressive environment, and the existence of an arsenal of laws that protect the security services from accountability. The report adds that the Syrian regime’s issuing this law is an empty official attempt to show a superficial commitment to compliance with the provisions of the Convention against Torture to which Syria acceded in 2004, even though it has not taken any legislative, judicial, administrative, educational, media, or other measures ever since to end the phenomenon of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, which is very common in all branches of the regime’s security services and police stations.
As the report further explains, the Syrian regime exercises absolute control over the legislative process because the executive authority/security services have dominance over the legislative authority, represented by the People’s Assembly (Parliament), nearly two-thirds of whose seats have been held by the Ba’ath Party since 1973, abetted by the power and intimidation of the security services. In addition, the 2012 constitution, like its predecessor, confers godlike, absolute powers on the president of the republic, elevating him to the status of a sacrosanct being with total control over all aspects of the three powers – executive, judicial and legislative, in addition to being the Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Armed Forces. Based on all of these factors, the Syrian regime can easily introduce whatever laws it wishes and amend them according to its interests, whether through the People’s Assembly or directly through the President in person under the name of ‘legislative decrees’.
The report notes that since the Ba’ath Party took control of power, the Syrian regime has introduced dozens of fabricated charges to be brought against whoever the regime wishes to target among citizens, especially dissidents, opponents, and activists. It has also enacted exceptional laws and other legislation that complement its repressive nature and practices through arrests/detentions carried out by its security services and the subsequent torture, enforced disappearances, and summary trials, all of which are used as tools for applying collective punishment against all societal groups. The report adds that the Counter-Terrorism Law, the General Penal Code, and the Military Penal Code are among the most prominent laws used to try detainees. In most cases, the exceptional courts at which the detainees are tried use a range of main charges which are particularized according to the detainees’ cases; this means the detainee is not charged with a single charge, but rather a set of charges, none of which are based on evidence or facts.
In addition, the report notes that the regime issued Law No. 15, on March 28, 2022, amending the General Penal Code, with the report listing the main amendments concerning detainees based on their expressions of opinion or the basis of the conflict. The report further reveals that the amendments issued by the Syrian regime in accordance with Law 15/2022 have been expanded with the introduction of new crimes even more vaguely defined than previously, capable of subjecting an even wider range of civilians to prosecution for exercising the slightest form of expression of opinion or the mildest criticism of the state’s authority. The report explains that these amendments were issued by the regime in an effort to quell the increasing incidence of popular tension prevailing in the areas under regime control, even by regime loyalists, due to the deterioration in economic and living conditions suffered by civilians. Consequently, anyone who criticizes almost anything is arrested, which further strengthens the authority’s iron grip and legitimizes arrests.
In a related context, the report reveals that there are fundamental faults in the text of Law 16 of 2022, supposedly issued to criminalize torture, on March 30, 2022, and provides details of five fundamental faults in the law’s text that empty it of any effectiveness and render it useless in practice. The report details these faults based on SNHR’s analysis of the texts of the law.
As the report reveals, the Syrian regime has actually legalized the crime of torture through many laws and decrees, doing so despite the fact that the current Syrian constitution, issued in 2012, prohibits arbitrary arrest and torture, and the General Penal Code includes provisions that impose a penalty of imprisonment for anyone who beats a person with a degree of severity during the investigation of crimes, and prohibits torture during investigation; however, there are legal texts that explicitly oppose previous constitutional articles, giving legalizing impunity, as officers, individuals, and employees of the security services enjoy a kind of impunity from prosecution before the judiciary, except with the approval of their superiors. The report explains that any prosecution conditional on obtaining such approval is considered unconstitutional and intrudes on the judicial authority, undermining its independence by placing a limitation that does not allow it to exercise its constitutional mandate without the approval of an official of the executive authority as stated in the texts the report analyzed.
The report further reveals that Syria under the current Syrian regime suffers from two problems in this context; the first in terms of the legal texts themselves, and the second in terms of applying the law, stressing that these articles of legislation, which are supposed to be legal texts but in reality constitute a violation of the law, are decrees and texts that legitimize crimes, violate even the 2012 constitution and violate fundamental tenets of human rights, constituting perpetuation of impunity. In addition, 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 and which have caused deaths due to torture to continue up to this day.
The report notes that the information contained on the SNHR database proves that the law criminalizing torture and any legislation enacted by the Syrian regime are useless as long as the regime remains in power since it has been the main perpetrator of violations of torture, arbitrary arrest/detention, and enforced disappearance since March 2011 to date, adding that at least 132,667 individuals are still under arrest or forcibly disappeared in the Syrian regime’s detention centers, including 3,658 children and 8,096 women (adult female), from March 2011 to March 2022.
Since the beginning of 2018 up until April 2022, the report has also been able to document at least 1,056 cases of forcibly disappeared persons whose deaths the Syrian regime revealed through the Civil Registry departments. SNHR believes that all of these people died as a result of torture and neglect of healthcare, despite the Syrian regime’s denials of having detained them.
The report also documents the deaths of at least 14,449 individuals who died due to torture and neglect of healthcare in the Syrian regime’s detention centers, including 174 children and 74 women, from March 2011 to March 2022.
The report emphasizes that there is no doubt that the latest law criminalizing torture 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.
The report stresses that the Syrian state centrally controls its detention centers, and these security centers are not subject to any judicial oversight by the Public Prosecution at all, contrary to the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure, so it is highly unlikely that deaths due to torture could take place without the knowledge of the state’s ruling regime.
The report notes that although the Syrian regime is responsible for proving that the deaths that occurred were not due to torture and handing over the victims’ bodies to their families, it has not conducted a single investigation for eleven years. This alone constitutes clear evidence of conviction against it. In addition to these points, not only one of the Syrian regime’s organs involved in torture and in deaths due to torture, this requires the participation of several institutions in the state, most notably: the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Defense, the security services, the Public Prosecution, forensic medicine, civil prisons, military hospitals, the judicial institution, the Ministry of Awqaf, the burial office, and this It refers to a process of exceptional harmony and coordination between these institutions, and this can only be done by the management of higher levels in the Syrian regime that control all these institutions.
As the report reveals, the Syrian regime has not only brought charges against and tried detainees under the General Penal Code in the articles related to crimes against state security and the Military Field Court established in 1968 but also issued the Counter-Terrorism Law, in which it provided vague articles and ambiguous, non-specific definitions of terrorist acts and conspiracy, in tandem with another established exceptional criminal court for terrorism cases, according to which the largest possible number of detainees could be tried before the Counter-Terrorism Court, with the legislation leaving room for the judges to define and analyze the accusations made according to their own opinions, opening the door to the material exploitation and extortion of any detainee in exchange for their release or inclusion in the amnesty decrees issued.
The report stresses that there was no legal basis for the mechanism for criminalizing and charging political detainees originally, with charges brought either under the Counter-Terrorism Law or the General Penal Code based on confessions extracted from detainees under torture and coercion, which are not courts in any legal or judicial sense.
The report calls on the UN Security Council and the United Nation to find ways and mechanisms to implement Security Council Resolutions 2041, 2042, 2139, and Article 12 of Resolution 2254 regarding detainees and forcibly disappeared persons in Syria, to take steps to end arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture, and death due to torture in the Syrian regime’s detention centers, and to rescue the remaining detainees as soon as possible.
The report also provides other additional recommendations…