The Resumption of the Lebanese General Directorate of State Security’s 2017 Voluntary Repatriations Programs Puts Many Syrians at Great Risk
Press release (Link below to download full report):
Paris – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) revealed in a report released today, that it documented at least 208 cases of arbitrary arrest/detention in October 2022, including seven children and five women, noting that resuming the 2017’s voluntary repatriations programs by Lebanon’s General Security puts many Syrians at great risk
The 30-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.
The report outlines the cases of arbitrary arrest/detention documented by SNHR in October 2022 by the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria, while also shedding light on the most notable individual cases and incidents of arbitrary arrest and detention that SNHR’s team was able to document 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 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.
On a related note, 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 indicated that the Syrian regime issues laws that violate the principles of the law and violate the determinants of arrest and investigation in accordance with local legislation. The Anti-Terrorism Law, the General Penal Code, and the Military Penal Code are among the most prominent laws under which detainees are tried, and in most cases, the exceptional courts to which the detainees are subject are charged with a set of charges. Thus, the detainee does not face one charge, but rather a number of charges, which are not based on evidence or real facts. The 2012 constitution affirmed that the rule of law is the basis of governance in the state, and that every accused person is innocent until convicted by a court ruling in a fair trial, and that the punishment is limited to the individual, so it is not permissible for family members of a perpetrator of criminal acts such as his wife, forebears or descendants to be detained for his crime, and held as hostages until his arrest. The Constitution prohibits the search or arrest of a person except by virtue of an order or decision issued by the competent judiciary. When a person is arrested, he must be informed of the reasons for his arrest and his rights, and the constitution also forbids continuing to detain him before the administrative authority except by order of the competent judiciary. Likewise, the Code of Criminal Procedure clarifies in Article 17/1 that the Public Prosecutor is the only entity charged with investigating crimes and tracking down their perpetrators, with the security services having no authority in this matter, and that Legislative Decree No. 55 issued on April 21, 2011, which allows the judicial police or its delegates (the security services) to detain suspects for seven days, is subject to renewal by the District Attorney, provided that this period does not exceed sixty days, with security services not completely bound by this legislation; this confirms that the principle of the supremacy of constitutional law remains theoretical and without any real value, and is completely undermined by official government institutions and a judiciary incapable of oversight and accountability due to the loss of its independence and the meddling of the executive and legislative authority.
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 a crucial and inescapable truth we have reiterated many times in the past: no Syrian citizen can feel safe from arrests since these are carried out without any legal grounds or any oversight by any independent judiciary. Those arrests are made 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 as a safe haven, even remotely; and surely, and more importantly, not a safe place for the return of refugees. The report stresses that there will be no stability or safety as long as the same security apparatus exists, adding that the Syrian regime’s security authorities have been committing crimes against humanity since 2011. The report highlights certain patterns that marked the month of October. For one, Syrian regime forces continued to pursue and arrest individuals who had agreed to security settlements. these arrests have been concentrated in Damascus suburbs and Daraa governorates, with most occurring during campaigns of mass raids and arrests and at checkpoints.
The report also documents random and widespread arrests of Syrian citizens in the governorates of Damascus suburbs, Damascus, Deir Ez-Zour, Suwayda, and other governorates, as part of raids and mass arrest campaigns, as well as on checkpoints. We believe those arrests were the result of malicious security reports. In addition, the report records sporadic arrests made by the Syrian regime’s Criminal Security division that involved a number of civilians, including women, for dealing in foreign currency (US dollar). Those arrests were concentrated in a number of Syrian governorates, including Damascus and Hama. Further, the report highlights arrests targeting returnees, both refugees returning from other countries and internally displaced persons, as they were trying to return to their original areas of residence under the control of the Syrian regime. These arrests were concentrated at Damascus International Airport, Damascus city, and crossings with Lebanon. It is important to note that the refugees who returned from Lebanon were not part of the voluntary repatriation program which was resumed by Lebanon’s General Security, on September 5, 2022.
In terms of releases in October, the report records the release of nearly three individuals in relation to the Amnesty Law No. 7/2022, which was issued by the Syrian regime on April 30, 2022. Moreover, the report records eight releases, mostly of detainees from the two governorates of Damascus and Daraa, who were released from Syrian regime detention centers based in Damascus governorate after they served their arbitrary sentences. Notably, those arrests are not connected to Amnesty Law No. 7/2022. Also, the report records a number of cases in which detainees were released a few days or months after their arrest, without having been subject to trials. Most of them were from Deir Ez-Zour and Hama governorates. All of the released detainees spent their period of detention in regime security branches.
Meanwhile, the report notes that SDF also continued enforcing the group’s policies of arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance in October, as SDF personnel continued carrying out campaigns of mass raids and detentions, targeting civilians on the pretext of fighting ISIS, with some of these campaigns backed by US-led coalition helicopters. The report also documents detentions targeting a number of civilians, during campaigns of mass raids and detentions and at checkpoints with the aim of taking them to SDF recruitment camps. These arrests were concentrated in Raqqa and Deir Ez-Zour governorates. Moreover, the report records cases of detention of civilians for being involved in anti-SDF protests that decried the living situations and services in SDF-held areas. SDF also continued to abduct children that are intended to be taken to military training and recruitment camps. As the children have been subjected to conscription, their families were not allowed to contact them, nor did the SDF disclose their fate.
As for Hay’at Tahrir al Sham (HTS), the report documents a number of cases where civilians were detained that concentrated in Idlib governorate. Those cases involved media activists and politicians. most of 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 abducted their victims while they were traveling or passing through temporary checkpoints. The report also recorded cases of detentions of dozens of civilians and National Army servicemen, mostly in Afrin city and a number of the villages administratively affiliated to Afrin city, in the suburbs of Aleppo governorate. Those arrest came after HTS took over the city of Afrin. However, the report notes that some of those detained in that context were released as part of prisoner exchange deals with National Army factions.
On the other hand, all armed opposition factions/Syrian National Army also continued carrying out arbitrary detentions and kidnappings in October, 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 that exhibited ethnic patterns, with these incidents being concentrated in their area of 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 being carried out without presenting any clear charges against those being detained. In addition to these cases, the report documents raids and detentions carried out by Syrian National Army servicemen, targeting civilians, on charges of collaborating with SDF. Also, we documented raids and detentions in some of the villages affiliated with the suburbs of Aleppo governorate, as part of search operations for detainees who managed to escape from National Army detention centers during the time when the city was controlled by HTS.
The report documents at least 208 cases of arbitrary arrest/detention in October 2022, including seven children and five women, with 124 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. Of the 208 cases, 86 were carried out at the hands of Syrian regime forces, while SDF detained 46 individuals, including seven children. The report also notes that all Armed Opposition factions/Syrian National Army detained 27 individuals, including one woman, while HTS detained 49 individuals.
The report also shows the distribution of cases of arbitrary arrests/detentions in October across Syria. 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 followed by the governorates of Deir Ez-Zour, Damascus Suburbs, Raqqa, Damascus, Hama, Idlib, Homs, and then Hasaka.
According to the report, 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 with 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.