The Syrian Regime Has Given No Indications of Goodwill, With Approximately 136,000 Syrian Citizens Still Imprisoned in Regime Detention Centers, Including Approximately 8,473 Women
Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq foreign ministers in a meeting with the foreign minister of the Syrian regime, held in Amman on May 1, 2023 | Photo by: Jordan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates
The Hague – The Syrian Network for Human Rights today released a statement entitled, ‘Readmitting the Syrian Regime into the Arab League Does Not Mean that Syria is Safe for the Return of Refugees Since the Syrian Regime is Still Committing Crimes Against Humanity’, in which the group noted that the Syrian regime has given no indications of goodwill, with approximately 136,000 Syrian citizens still imprisoned in regime detention centers, including approximately 8,473 women.
The statement notes that, on Sunday, May 7, 2023, Arab foreign ministers held an extraordinary consultative meeting in the Egyptian Capital Cairo, at which the decision was made to end the suspension of Syria’s membership of the Arab League; this marked the end of a 12-year revocation of Syria’s seat that took effect following a resolution by the Council issued on November 12, 2011 to suspend Syrian delegates from the Arab League. The resolution adopted at the time provided that Arab state would recall their ambassadors from Syria, while imposing political and economic sanctions on the Syrian government in response to the regime’s gross violations against the Syrian people (it is quite bizarre that this readmission is taking place despite the fact that those violations did not stop, nor did the Syrian regime review its policies, apologize, or hold any member of its security or military accountable for said violations).
In light of those developments, the statement stresses that SNHR is seriously concerned that any restoration of relations with the Syrian regime would lead to forcing Syrian refugees to return to Syria. In fact, SNHR has documented, as of this writing, the refoulment of no fewer than 753 Syrian refugees from Lebanon since the beginning of April 2023, including 72 women and 94 children. Of these, the statement continues, 14 individuals, one of them a child, have been arrested. Two of those arrested, who are from the same family, were detained by the Syrian regime’s Military Security forces in the al-Masna border area, while the other 12 were arrested by the Syrian regime’s State Security branch in Damascus. The crackdowns against Syrian refugees in Lebanon have been concentrated in areas with high Syrian populations, such as Bourj Hammoud, al-Mansourieh, Dekwaneh, and al-Rihab as well as in a number of neighborhoods in Beirut city, the areas of Rechmaya, Hammana, and Saoufar in Mount Lebanon, and the Ghazze area in the Western Beqaa district of al-Beqaa government.
The statement adds that SNHR has received credible information that the Palestine Branch, which is affiliated with the Syrian regime’s Military Intelligence Directorate, is studying the security status of the civilians who were deported back from Lebanon, which raises the possibility of them potentially being arrested in the near future. Many of the refugees who have been repatriated to Syria said they are trying to flee the country again.
The statement stresses that SNHR’s well-founded concerns stem from the fact that Syrian authorities are still committing gross violations against people living in regime-controlled areas of Syria, some of which qualify as crimes against humanity, adding that the refugees who are being forcibly repatriated will potentially suffer similar violations amid the absence of any legitimate legal environment, with security agencies having full and uncontested control of the fate of both residents and returnees. As SNHR’s documentation shows, the overwhelming majority of arrests are carried out without any court-issued judicial warrant being presented, with many of those arbitrarily arrested ultimately going on to become forcibly disappeared persons. It is probable that they are being subjected to torture and may face death under torture, as well as being subjected to other violations such as conscription, extortion, and seizure of their lands and properties.
As the statement also notes, the refoulment of refugees and the forced repatriation of Syrian refugees constitute blatant violations of customary international law. Any governments carrying out such practices bear legal responsibility for the torture, killing, enforced disappearance, and other violations that will potentially be perpetrated by the Syrian regime against forced returnees, in addition, of course, to the Syrian regime’s direct responsibility for those violations.
The statement includes four recommendations to be presented before the Syrian regime, as a bare minimum, at the Arab League Summit set to be held tomorrow, if the Arab states do feel compelled to readmit the Syrian regime to the Arab League. These recommendations are that the regime should:
• Immediately release approximately 136,000 political prisoners, including 96,000 forcibly disappeared persons, and disclose the names of the victims who either died due to torture or have been executed, and reveal their burial locations.
• Disband all extraordinary courts and repeal all of their rulings.
• Repeal all laws used by the Syrian regime to take over the lands and private properties of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs).
• Allow for the commencement of an independent accountability process for all those involved in carrying out bombardment, killings, and torture against the Syrian people irrespective of the positions they hold in the military and security hierarchies.
In conclusion, the statement stresses that Syrian refugees will not voluntarily return to the country as long as the Syrian authorities’ multiple violations continue. Those violations will not stop as long as the regime’s security apparatuses continue to implement the same policies they have perpetrated since 2011. Action must be taken to bring about a political transition in accordance with UN Security Council resolution 2254 in a way that creates a foundation for a legal environment that respects human rights and international law. Only when Syrian refugees feel safe, and only then, will they voluntarily choose to return to their home country and their homes.