Syrian refugees returning to Syria as part of Lebanon’s voluntary repatriation programs face targeted arrest at the hands of the Syrian regime
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 196 cases of arbitrary arrest/detention in November 2022, including 11 children and three women, noting that Syrian refugees returning to Syria as part of Lebanon’s voluntary repatriation programs face targeted arrest at the hands of the Syrian regime.
The 27-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 November 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 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 SNHR has been 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 legal 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 refers 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’s power 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 indicates that the Syrian regime issues laws which 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 impose a range 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, with the constitution also forbidding his continuing detention by 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 all the amnesty decrees issued by the Syrian regime have led to the release of no more than 7,531 arbitrarily arrested detainees, while the Syrian regime is still holding roughly 135,253 detainee/forcibly disappeared persons. As such, amnesty decrees only lead to the release of a very limited number of detainees, while arbitrary arrests continue to be carried out in a systematic and widespread manner. The Syrian regime is still carrying out arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearance regardless of any amnesty decrees it may issue.
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 – 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, showing that the areas under the control of the Syrian regime cannot be considered even remotely to be a safe haven, 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 November. 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, Homs, and Deir Ez-Zour. Those arrests, which involved even children, were part of a wider program of raids and mass arrest campaigns, while some were also carried out at checkpoints. The report notes that these arrests may be the result of malicious security reports. Furthermore, November saw arrests made on the pretext of failing to join the reserve military service. In addition, the report records sporadic arrests by Syrian regime forces on charges of dealing in foreign currency (US dollar). Those arrests were concentrated in a number of Syrian governorates, most notably Damascus suburbs. Moreover, 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 crossings with Lebanon, with refugees returning as part of the voluntary repatriation program resumed by Lebanon’s General Security on September 5, 2022.
In terms of releases in November, the report records the release of nine individuals at the hands of Syrian regime forces. Most of these detainees came from the governorates of Damascus, Daraa, and Hama, and were released from regime detention centers in Damascus suburbs after fully serving their arbitrary sentences. These arrests were not related to Amnesty Decree No. 7/2022, with the detainees having been held by the Syrian regime for periods ranging from one year to 10 years on average. The report adds that November also saw cases in which detainees were released a few days or months after their arrest, without having been subject to trials. Most of these detainees came from Deir Ez-Zour and Homs governorates, with all of the released detainees having spent the entire periods of their detention in regime security branches.
Meanwhile, the report notes that Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) also continued enforcing the group’s policies of arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance in November, targeting civilians on the pretext of fighting ISIS, with some of these campaigns backed by US-led coalition helicopters. Additionally, the report records detentions targeting a number of civilians, during campaigns of mass raids and detentions and at checkpoints over their having voiced criticism of the living conditions and services in SDF-held areas. Those arrests were concentrated in the two governorates of Deir Ez-Zour and Raqqa. The report also records the arrest of a doctor from his place of work in a Deir Ez-Zour hospital. The SDF, the report adds, continued to abduct children with the intention of taking them to military training and recruitment camps. As the children have been subjected to conscription, their families were not allowed to contact them, while the SDF refuses to disclose their fate.
As the report further reveals, Hay’at Tahrir al Sham (HTS) continued to detain more civilians in November, including media activists and politicians, with these arrests concentrated in Idlib governorate; 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 abducting their victims while they were traveling or passing through temporary checkpoints.
Meanwhile, all armed opposition factions/Syrian National Army (SNA) also continued carrying out arbitrary detentions and kidnappings in November, 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 an ethnic character, with these incidents being concentrated in areas under the control of the armed opposition factions/SNA 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, we also documented raids and detentions carried out by SNA servicemen, targeting civilians, on charges of collaborating with the SDF.
The report documents at least 196 cases of arbitrary arrest/detention in November 2022, including 11 children and three women, with 162 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 196 cases, 106 were carried out at the hands of Syrian regime forces, while SDF detained 56 individuals, including nine children. The report also notes that all armed opposition factions/SNA detained 23 individuals, including two women, while HTS detained 11 individuals.
The report also shows the distribution of cases of arbitrary arrests/detentions in November across Syria. The analysis of the data for this period shows that Aleppo and Deir Ez-Zour governorates saw the highest number of cases of arbitrary arrests/detentions documented this month, followed by the governorates of Damascus suburbs, then Raqqa, then Damascus, then Daraa, then Homs, then Hama, and then Idlib.
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 conditions in these courts fail to meet even the most fundamental standards of fair courts, and they are in reality closer to regime military-security branches in nature.
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. Sixty-eight 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 a number of additional recommendations.