The Syrian Regime Arrested at Least 228 IDPs/Refugees Who Returned to its Territories in 2022, Further Confirming Syria is Unsafe for the Return of Refugees
Press release: (Download the full report below)
Paris – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) revealed in a report released today, that it documented at least 2,221 cases of arbitrary arrest/detention in 2022, including 148 children and 457 women, with 213 cases documented in December. The report stresses that Syria remains wholly unsafe for the return of refugees as shown by the Syrian regime’s arrest of at least 228 IDPs/Refugees who returned to its territories in 2022.
The 28-page report explains that most 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 summarizes the cases of arbitrary arrest/detention documented by SNHR in 2022, including December, 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, as well as 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 explains, for a case to be categorized as an enforced disappearance, 20 days must have passed from the day on which the individual in question was arrested, during which time their family were unable to obtain information from the official authorities on their arrest or whereabouts, while the authorities that made the arrest refused to acknowledge holding them.
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, further noting 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. According to the new legislation, the regime considers torture to be a felony requiring severe punishment ofthe perpetrator and any other who participated in inflicting it, as well as of those who incited it. The report lists 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 those on which the regime’s power is based, including the texts granting impunity from prosecution to members of the security services, which conflict with many articles of the General Penal Code and the current constitution; other key points include the survival of the exceptional criminal courts (military field court, counter-terrorism court) in Damascus, the 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’s encroachment on the judiciary.
The report explains that the Syrian regime issues laws which violate the principles of the law, as well as violating 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, none of which are 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 their 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 continues to hold 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, with the regime still carrying out arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearance regardless of any amnesty decrees it may issue.
In 2022, the report notes, Syrian regime forces continued to pursue and arrest individuals who had agreed to security settlements. Those include civilians who were formerly activists in the medical and humanitarian relief fields. Such arrests were concentrated in 2022 in the governorates of Damascus suburbs, Daraa, Deir Ez-Zour, and Raqqa, with most occurring during campaigns of mass raids and arrests and at checkpoints. Furthermore, the report records mass arrests that targeted civilians, including women, over expressing critical views on social media of the deteriorating living conditions or government corruption in the areas under the control of Syrian regime forces, or over allegations of collaborating with/contacting foreign news outlets. The targets of these arrests included pro-regime media figures, university students, government employees, and lawyers, with individuals arrested in this context facing a series of charges related to the Counter-Cybercrime Law. In 2022, the report recorded the arrest of 124 individuals, including 19 women, on the grounds of the Counter-Cybercrime Law.
Moreover, the report documents arrests targeting returnees, both refugees returning from other countries and internally displaced persons (IDPs), as they attempted to return to their original areas of residence under the control of the Syrian regime. These arrests were concentrated at border crossings with Lebanon and Turkey, particularly in the latter case at the ‘Kasab Crossing’. We also recorded arrests targeting refugees returning as part of the voluntary repatriation program resumed by Lebanon’s General Security on September 5, 2022. Those arrests targeted children, women, and individuals who had previously agreed to security settlements with the regime. In 2022, the report documents no fewer than 228 cases of arbitrary arrest/detention by Syrian regime forces of people returning to their original areas of residence under the control of regime forces, including eight children, six women (adult female), and 11 elderly people. These 228 cases are divided between 77 cases involving IDPs and 151 cases involving returning refugees, most of whom were returning from Lebanon.
Additionally, the report documents a number of arrests/detentions that were carried out by regime security branches targeting civilians for the purpose of extorting ransom money from detainees’ families. Some of these arrests targeted civilians who had received money transfers from abroad on the pretext of dealing in a foreign currency, while others targeted civilians who had previously been released from regime detention. These arrests were concentrated in several Syrian governorates – most notably Damascus suburbs, Damascus, Aleppo, and Hama.
In terms of releases, the report documents that the Syrian regime released approximately 141 individuals who were detained in 2022 for periods ranging from several weeks to a number of months, most of whom never faced trial. These cases occurred in various security branches across Syria. Meanwhile, around 124 individuals were released in 2022 from civilian prisons across Syria after serving their arbitrary sentences, although none of these releases were related to the amnesty decrees issued by the regime in 2022.
As the report reveals, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) also continued their policies of arbitrary arrest and enforced disappearance in 2022, with the year seeing a significant rise in the number of detentions and enforced disappearances of children by the SDF compared to 2021. The report also documents SDF raids and mass detentions targeting civilians, activists, politicians, students, teachers, and workers at some of the SDF’s own institutions. Some of these arrests were carried out on the pretext of combating ISIS, with international coalition forces taking part in some of these operations. Furthermore, the report documented random detentions involving a number of civilians in Raqqa city following the events at Ghwayran Prison on January 20, 2022, when dozens of detainees escaped. Moreover, the report recorded the SDF’s arrest of members of the Yekiti Party of Kurdistan (PYKS), some of whom were released after suffering brutal beating in Hasaka city. Others were arrested by the SDF over accusations of collaborating with Syrian regime forces. Meanwhile, a number of civilian medical workers were arrested by SDF personnel in a raid on al-Resala Hospital in Theyban city, eastern suburbs of Deir Ez-Zour governorate over accusations of providing shelter for armed individuals inside the hospital. The SDF also carried out arrests targeting civilians, including university students, as part of larger campaigns of raids and mass arrests, as well as at checkpoints, in order to take them to military recruitment camps. Those arrests were concentrated in the governorates of Deir Ez-Zour and Raqqa. Furthermore, the report documents the SDF detaining civilians over their participation in anti-SDF demonstrations protesting against the poor living and service conditions in the areas under SDF control, as well as over the group’s child recruitment practices. The report further stresses that SDF personnel also continue to abduct children for the purpose of military conscription, taking these children to training and recruitment camps where they are not allowed to contact their families, who are not allowed to have any knowledge of their fate.
As the report further reveals, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) also continued its targeting of activists and workers with humanitarian groups in 2022. Most of these arrests were carried out over the detainees expressing views critical of HTS’s management of its territories, and other allegations such as charges of working with the SDF/international coalition or Syrian regime forces. HTS forces carry out arrests in an arbitrary fashion, in the form of raids, with HTS members breaking down doors in victims’ homes, or abducting them in the streets or at temporary checkpoints. The report also documents HTS’s arrest of members of the Tahrir Party over their criticism of HTS. Also, one incident saw HTS arresting a religious figure inside a center for memorizing the Quran in Idlib city. HTS personnel also physically assaulted, then arrested a number of women with their children over accusations of smuggling goods from areas under the control of the Syrian National Army (SNA) into the HTS-controlled western suburbs of Aleppo governorate.
In 2022, all armed opposition factions/SNA also continued carrying out arbitrary detentions and abductions, most of which took place on a mass scale. These detentions primarily targeted people coming from the regime’s territories. The report also documented detentions of an ethnic character being carried out by the armed opposition in 2022, including December, which were concentrated in the territories under their control in Aleppo governorate. Most of these arrests occurred without judicial authorization and without the participation of the police force, which is the sole legitimate administrative authority responsible for arrests and detentions through the judiciary, with these arrests also carried out without presenting any clear charges against those detained.
With regard to December, the report documents that Syrian regime forces continued to pursue and arrest individuals who had agreed to security settlements. These arrests were concentrated in Damascus suburbs and Daraa governorates. The report also documents random and widespread arrests of Syrian citizens by Syrian regime forces in various governorates, including Damascus suburbs, Damascus, Homs, and Hama, as part of campaigns of raids and mass arrests as well as at checkpoints. In addition, the report documents sporadic arrests by the Syrian regime of a number of civilians over charges of dealing in a foreign currency (US dollar), with these arreststaking place in a number of Syrian governorates, most notably Damascus suburbs.
In terms of releases, the report notes that on December 21, 2022, the Syrian regime issued Legislative Decree No. 24 for 2022, granting amnesty for crimes committed before December 21, 2022. SNHR has documented no releases pursuant to the decree. The report further reveals ts that the Syrian regime released 13 individuals in the month of December, most of whom were from the governorates of Damascus and Daraa. These individuals were released after serving their arbitrary sentences, meaning that their release was unrelated to Decrees 7/2022 or 24/2022.
The report documents at least 2,221 cases of arbitrary arrest/detention in 2022, including 148 children and 457 women, with 1,698 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 2,221 cases, 1,017 were carried out by Syrian regime forces, including 38 children and 416 women, while the Kurdish-led SDF arrested 633 individuals, including 93 children and 10 women. The report also notes that all armed opposition factions/SNA arrested 369 individuals, including four children and 28 women, while HTS detained 202 individuals, including 13 children and three women.
The report also shows the distribution of cases of arbitrary arrests/detentions in 2022 across Syria. The analysis of the data for this period shows that the governorates of Aleppo and Damascus suburbs saw the highest number of arrests, followed by Deir Ez-Zour, then Damascus, Daraa, Idlib, Hasaka, Homs and Hama.
In December, the report documents at least 213 cases of arbitrary arrest/detention, including eight children and four women, with 171 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 213 arbitrary arrests and detentions, 102 were carried out by Syrian regime forces, including one child and one woman, while the Kurdish-led SDF arrested 61 individuals, including seven children. The report also notes that all armed opposition factions/SNA arrested 34 civilians, including three women, while HTS arrested 16 civilians.
The report also shows the distribution of cases of arbitrary arrests/detentions in December across Syria. The analysis of the data for this period shows that the governorates of Aleppo and Deir Ez-Zour recorded the highest number of arrests, followed by Damascus suburbs, then Damascus, then Daraa, then Raqqa, then Homs and Idlib, and then Hama and Hasaka.
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.