No Fewer Than 182 Cases of Arbitrary Arrest Documented in January 2024, Including of Eight Children and Four Women
Press release: (Download the full report below)
The Hague – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) revealed in its latest monthly report released today that no fewer than 182 cases of arbitrary arrests were documented in January 2024, with those detained including eight children and four women.
The 19-page report notes that with the staggering rates of continued arbitrary arrest, the number of Syrian citizens classified as missing has skyrocketed, so much so that it can be called a phenomenon in itself. Indeed, Syria is one of the worst countries worldwide in terms of the numbers of ‘disappeared’ citizens. The report adds that the Syrian regime surpasses many of the world’s other authoritarian regimes by virtue of having absolute hegemony over the legislative and judicial branches of government. The regime has wielded this hegemony to promulgate a multitude of laws and decrees that violate international human rights law, as well as the principles pf law and the parameters of arrests and interrogation established in domestic legislation and the current Constitution of 2012. A part of that, the report stresses, is legitimizing the crime of torture. There are several texts in Syrian law that outlaw torture, including Article 53 of the current Syrian constitution which bans arbitrary arrest and torture and Article 391 of the Public Penal Code, which provides that anyone who uses coercion during interrogation shall receive a timed prison sentence ranging from three months to three years, while torture is wholly prohibited. However, other legal texts, including Law No. 16 of 2022 on Criminalizing Torture, explicitly contradict the aforementioned legal articles, and legitimize impunity.
The report outlines the arbitrary arrests/detentions and releases of detainees from the various detention centers by the parties to the conflict and controlling forces that were recorded in January 2024. The report, however, does not include abductions carried out by unidentified parties. Another exception made by SNHR is individuals detained for committing criminal offenses, such as murder, theft, narcotics-related crimes, and other crimes that have no political nature or are not related to the armed conflict, dissident activism, or freedom of opinion and expression. The report also touches upon the laws and decrees promulgated by the parties to the conflict in relation to issues of arrest and enforced disappearance in the period included in the report. In much of the reporting, the report incorporates a descriptive and analytic methodology.
The report documents no fewer than 182 cases of arbitrary arrest/detention in January 2024, with those detained including of eight children and four women (adult female). Of these, 146 have been subsequently classified as enforced disappearances. Syrian regime forces were responsible for 79 of the 182 cases, including of two children and one woman, while Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were responsible for 61 cases, including of six children. Additionally, the report records eight cases of arbitrary arrest/detention at the hands of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), while all armed opposition factions/Syrian National Army (SNA) were responsible for 34 cases of arbitrary arrest/detention, including of three women.
The report also shows the distribution of January’s cases across according to governorate. Analysis of the data shows that Aleppo governorate saw the highest number of cases of arbitrary arrests/detentions documented in January, followed by Deir Ez-Zour, then, in descending order, Rural Damascus, Raqqa, Hasaka, and then Hama. The report also compares the number of arbitrary arrests/detentions carried out by the parties to the conflict and controlling force sin Syria with releases from the various detention centers forces in January 2024. In this regard, the report stresses that the number of arbitrary arrests far surpasses the number of releases from detention centers, with the number of releases equaling approximately 30 percent of all the detentions documented; this confirms again that at least two or three times as many people are detained as are released, primarily by the Syrian regime, which indicates that these arrest and detention practices are standard policy in comparison to the extremely limited numbers of people released by all parties to the conflict, but mainly from regime detention centers.
The report notes that Syrian regime forces carried out widespread arrests/detentions involving civilians in the governorates of Rural Damascus, Hama, Homs, and Daraa, on the pretext of detainees failing to join the military or reserve forces as part of the mandatory military services. Those arrests were carried out during raids or mass arrests at checkpoints, and even targeted individuals who had previously agreed to settle their security situation with the regime in the areas that saw settlement agreements. The report also documents multiple arrests/detentions carried out for the purpose of extorting money from detainees’ families, some of which targeted civilians receiving money transfers from abroad on the pretext of dealing in a foreign currency. While these arrests took place in various Syrian governorates, they were particularly concentrated in Rural Damascus, Damascus, and Hama. The report also documents arrests/detentions that targeted returning internally displaced persons (IDPs) or refugees as they were trying to return to their original areas which are under the control of regime forces. These arrests targeted refugees returning by air via Damascus International Airport and from Lebanon via border crossings. Additionally, the report documents arrests by regime security authorities targeting civilians visiting immigration and passports departments in regime-held governorates to obtain travel documents. Those arrests were concentrated in the governorates of Damascus, Hama, and Homs.
Meanwhile, the report notes, the SDF also continued enforcing the group’s policies of arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance in January 2024. In doing so, SDF personnel continued carrying out campaigns of mass raids and detentions, targeting civilians on the pretext of fighting ISIS, with some of these arrest campaigns backed by US-led coalition helicopters. The report also documents arrests/detentions of civilians over accusations of working with the SNA, with some arrests being followed by severe beatings of the civilians detained. Moreover, the report documents more detentions of civilians for forced conscription, with these detainees taken to SDF military training and recruitment centers, which are concentrated in Manbij city and surrounding villages in Aleppo governorate. Additionally, the SDF has also continued abducting children with the objective of conscripting them for military training, and sending them to military training camps; the parents and families of these conscripted children are not allowed to contact them, while the SDF refuses to disclose their fate.
As the report further reveals, HTS detained more civilians in January 2024. These arrests, which were concentrated in Idlib governorate, targeted media activists, political activists, and local dignitaries. Most of these arrests were carried out in relation to the detainees expressing opinions critical of HTS’s management of areas under its control. These detentions are routinely carried out arbitrarily in the form of raids in which HTS members storm their victims’ homes, often breaking down the doors, or abducting their victims in the street or while they’re passing through temporary checkpoints. The group also arrested a number of individuals over their alleged affiliation with the extremist Tahrir Party. Most of these arrests took place in the form of raids and mass arrest, as well as at checkpoints in Idlib governorate. Moreover, the HTS’s judiciary summoned a number of media activists and workers with humanitarian groups for interrogation and to warn them against violating the policies enforced by the HTS in the course of their work.
Furthermore, all armed opposition factions/SNA continued carrying out arbitrary detentions and kidnappings in January 2024, including of women and children. Most of these detentions were conducted on a mass scale, targeting individuals coming from areas controlled by the Syrian regime or the SDF. In addition, we documented detentions that exhibited an ethnic character, with these incidents 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 sole legitimate administrative authority responsible for arrests and detentions through the judiciary, as well as being carried out without any clear charges being presented against those being detained. Furthermore, we documented raids and arrests by SNA personnel targeting civilians who were accused of working with the SDF, with these arrests being concentrated in Afrin city in Aleppo governorate.
On the subject of releases, the report documents the release of one detainee in connection with the amnesty decree promulgated by the Syrian regime on April 30, 2022 (Decree No. 7 of 2022). The detainee in question was released from the ‘government complex’ in Daraa city. In Damascus governorate, the report documents the regime’s release of four individuals originally from the governorates of Hama, Daraa, and Damascus, who were released after serving the full term of their arbitrary sentences. As such, these releases were not related to any of the amnesty decrees that have been promulgated to date, with these detainees having been imprisoned for periods of between one to seven years. The report also documented the release of 11 individuals, including two women, who had been held without trial for brief periods of time, ranging from a few days to a few months, without appearing before a court. Most of these detainees came from the governorates of Latakia, Daraa, and Hama. Most had spent the duration of their detention in regime security branches.
As the report further reveals, 19 individuals, including one child, were released from SDF detention centers in January 2024, where they had been held for various periods ranging from a few days to five months, with most of these detainees originating from the governorates of Deir Ez-Zour and Aleppo. Most of these releases were the result of meditation by tribal intermediaries or came after the detainees had completed their arbitrary sentences. The HTS, on the other hand, released four civilians from its detention centers in Idlib governorate, with the released detainees having been detained for a few days, without any clear charges being brought against them. Meanwhile, In January 2024, all armed opposition factions/SNA released 16 civilians, including one woman, after detaining them for periods ranging from a few days to four months without bringing any clear charges against them or putting them on trial. Most were released only after their families had been extorted into paying sums of money to secure their release.
As the report further reveals, SNHR’s data has become a reputable principal source of information for many UN bodies, being used in statements and resolutions. The most recent of these was a draft resolution on the situation of human rights in Syria (A/C.3/78/L.43), passed by a vote on Wednesday, November 15, 2023, condemning the Syrian regime’s continuation of gross, systematic, and widespread violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law. Additionally, this latest resolution acknowledged that the number of detainees in Syria continues to rise steadily, already exceeding 135,000. Relatedly, the resolution holds the regime responsible for the systematic use of enforced disappearance, which, it noted, constitutes a crime against humanity.
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. Approximate 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 must 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, as well as providing a number of additional recommendations.