The Syrian Regime Has Killed at Least 200,391 Civilians, Including 14,464 Due to Torture, and Forcibly Disappeared 95,696 Others Since March 2011
Press release: (Download the full report below)
The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) issued a report today entitled, “The Syrian Regime, Through Its Security Services and State Institutions, Controls the Incidents of Registering the Deaths of Victims Killed/’Disappeared’ in the Armed Conflict Since March 2011”, in which it notes that the Syrian regime has killed at least 200,391 civilians, including 14,464 due to torture, and forcibly disappeared 95,696 others since March 2011.
The 11 page report reveals that the Syrian regime has refrained from issuing death certificates to its victims’ families with the exception of a very few cases, regardless of the additional trauma and suffering this causes to the families of those killed. The regime not only kills its victims, but even denies their families the small dignity of issuing a death certificate for them, amplifying the suffering of their family members and extending it, often for many years, given the repercussions of a person’s ‘disappearance’ on their spouse, children, parents, siblings, and other family members. Part of this additional suffering results from the need to obtain a ‘devolution of inheritance’ document for any deceased person in order to dispose of this or her property, and to ensure that the deceased’s spouse and children are legally eligible to claim any retirement pension due to him or her. This document is also essential in enabling a deceased man’s widow, to request that she be appointed by a Sharia judge as a guardian of their minor children and to allow her to obtain passports for them and obtain any travel visas. Failure to register the death incident also deprives a widow of the opportunity for remarriage, and of other social and legal benefits and rights.
The report provides details of three methods used by the Syrian regime to register and confirm the deaths of some of the citizens who were subjected to extra-judicial killing at its hands due to the internal armed conflict. First, those victims whose families have not yet been able to obtain a death certificate to confirm their loved ones’ demise, even one which does not mention the cause of death or name the responsible party, or even gives another reason for the death, for fear of the security repercussions on the family members, who desperately need these death certificates; second, victims of arbitrary arrest, with the Syrian regime and the other parties to the conflict having arrested at least 154,398 individuals, 111,907 of whom have been forcibly disappeared. Throughout the years of detention, the detainees are subjected to the most horrific methods of torture, which have caused the deaths of 14,464 due to torture. Thousands of people who were killed under torture have not been registered as deceased within the official state agencies, with the fate of 95,696 forcibly disappeared persons remaining unknown to the present day; the third method is related to registering the death of missing persons, through these deaths being registered after the passage of four years or more since the person was first documented as missing.
The report refers to Circular No. 22 issued by the Minister of Justice in the Syrian regime government on August 10, 2022, which specifies new procedures for the conduct of proceedings related to registering deaths within Sharia courts. The circular includes new conditions stipulating that five items of evidence must be submitted to and approved by the relevant judges in proceedings related to registering the death. It also requires that all relevant courts involved in death registration cases comply with the circular’s content.
The report stresses that understanding the implementation of any decree/law/circular/decision issued by the Syrian regime cannot be treated as being independent of the unlimited powers and authority of the security services, who are the main controller of all other institutions and authorities. The SNHR’s analysis of the content of this circular’s text demonstrates that it contains five constitutional and legal violations, in addition to having grave consequences, most notably that this new circular violates the provisions of Civil Status Law No. 13 of 2021, Articles 35-43 of which stipulated the conditions for the procedures to be followed in registering deaths, with these articles containing no requirements, restrictions, or clearance to register the death. This circular is considered a blatant intrusion in the work of the judicial authority, whose independence is, at least nominally, enshrined in the current Syrian constitution, which stipulates that the judge is the sole decision-maker in requesting any document, statement, or clearance and that conditions and restrictions may not be imposed on him. This circular also includes a violation of the principles of the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary, which are protected by Article 132 of the current constitution established by the Syrian regime.
The report concludes that this new circular proves that the Syrian regime continues to issue legislation, laws, and decrees that violate the fundamental rights of Syrian citizens, and that it opens the door for the victims’ families to register the death of their loved ones, but ensures that this is done under the supervision and absolute control of the regime’s security services, and by giving a false cause of death, since it is impossible to obtain any official death certificate stating the true cause, i.e., that the Syrian regime arrested the victim, who subsequently died due to torture in a regime detention center, or that he or she was killed by the Syrian regime’s bombing with barrel bombs or chemical weapons.
The report calls on the UN Security Council and United Nations to hold a meeting to discuss the fate of tens of thousands of Syrians killed or forcibly disappeared by the regime, whose fate the regime has not revealed, who are treated as though they had vanished from existence into nothingness, and to work seriously to achieve a political transition towards a state of democracy and respect for human rights, which will contribute to revealing the fate of hundreds of thousands of Syrians, and constitute a starting point for preserving the rights of the victims.
The report also calls on the international community to condemn the circular issued by the Syrian regime and to demand that the fate of all forcibly disappeared persons be revealed, the locations of the bodies of the deceased be revealed, and all survivors be released, as well as ordering the issuance of death certificates that include the real causes of death from bombing or killing under torture.