HomeArrestSNHR’s Monthly Report on Arbitrary Arrests/Detentions in Syria

SNHR’s Monthly Report on Arbitrary Arrests/Detentions in Syria


No Fewer Than 194 Cases of Arbitrary Arrest Documented in February 2024, Including of Seven Children and Five Women

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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 194 cases of arbitrary arrests were documented in February 2024, with those detained including seven children and five women.

The 20-page report notes that, given the staggering rates of continuing arbitrary arrests, the number of Syrian citizens classified as missing has skyrocketed, so much so that this 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 this process, 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. Despite these texts, however, other legal texts, including Law No. 16 of 2022 on Criminalizing Torture, explicitly contradict the aforementioned legal articles, and legitimize impunity for torturers.

The report summarizes the arbitrary arrests/detentions and the releases of detainees from various detention centers by the parties to the conflict and controlling forces that were documented in February 2024. The report, however, does not include abductions carried out by unidentified parties. Another exception made by SNHR is of individuals detained for committing criminal offenses, such as murder, theft, narcotics-related crimes, and other crimes that have no political nature or are unrelated 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 covered. In much of the reportage, the report incorporates a descriptive and analytic methodology.

The report documents no fewer than 194 cases of arbitrary arrest/detention in February 2024, with those detained including seven children and five women (adult female). Of these, 153 have subsequently been classified as enforced disappearances. Syrian regime forces were responsible for 86 of the 194 cases, including of one child and three women, while Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were responsible for 59 cases, including of six children. Additionally, the report records 14 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 35 cases of arbitrary arrest/detention, including of two women.

The report also shows the distribution of February’s cases across Syria’s governorates. Analysis of the data shows that Aleppo governorate saw the highest number of cases of arbitrary arrests/detentions documented in February, followed by the governorates of Damascus, then Rural Damascus, then Homs, and then Hama, Idlib, and Hasaka. 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 forces’ detention centers documented in February 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 of civilians in the governorates of Rural Damascus, Hama, Aleppo, and Daraa, on the pretext of failing to join the military or reserve forces as part of the regime’s mandatory military service policy. These 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. Furthermore, the report documents arrests/detentions of civilians who voiced demands and criticized the worsening living situation in regime-held areas, or those who expressed support for the popular movement in Suwayda governorate on social media. These detainees, who include university students and pro-regime media figures, face charges related to the Counter-Cybercrime Law. These arrests were concentrated in the governorates of Latakia and Tartus. There were also multiple arrests/detentions, primarily in Homs governorate, of people travelling to the Syrian-Lebanese borders with the aim of crossing irregularly into Lebanon. Lastly, the report adds that regime forces were also responsible for arrests/detentions targeting returning internally displaced persons (IDPs) or refugees as they attempted to return to their original areas which are under the control of regime forces. These arrests, mainly targeting refugees returning from Lebanon via border crossings, were concentrated in Rural Damascus governorate.

Meanwhile, the report notes, the SDF also continued enforcing the group’s policies of arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance in February 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. We also documented arrests/detentions of civilians in connection with accusations of working with the SNA. Moreover, we documented arrests of individuals over their alleged involvement in the ongoing clashes between the SDF and the Arab tribes, with those arrests being concentrated in Deir Ez-Zour governorate. Additionally, the report documents more detentions of civilians for forced conscription, with these detainees taken to SDF military training and recruitment camps, which are concentrated in the SDF-held areas in Aleppo governorate. 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 February 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’ 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.

Furthermore, all armed opposition factions/SNA continued carrying out arbitrary detentions and kidnappings in February 2024, including of women. 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 those arrests being concentrated in Afrin city in Aleppo governorate. Additionally, we recorded arrests/detentions by the SNA’s Military Police that targeted people returning to their homes after being displaced when the SNA took over Afrin in 2018. Those areas were concentrated in a number of villages that are administratively a part of Afrin city.

On the subject of releases, the report documents the release of two detainees, both from regime detention centers in Daraa city, in connection with the amnesty decree promulgated by the Syrian regime on April 30, 2022 (Decree No. 7 of 2022). In Damascus governorate, the report documents the regime’s release of five 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 four years. The report also documented the release of 14 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, and had spent the duration of their detention in regime security branches.

As the report further reveals, 16 people, including two children, were released in February from SDF detention centers where they had been held for various periods ranging from a few days to four 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 sentences. HTS, meanwhile, released nine people from its detention centers in Idlib governorate, with the released detainees having been detained for periods ranging from a few days to six months, without any clear charges being brought against them. Meanwhile, In February 2024, all armed opposition factions/SNA released 14 people, including four women, after detaining them for periods ranging from a few days to six 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 notes, SNHR’s data is classified as 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 human rights situation in Syria (A/C.3/78/L.43), passed by a vote on Wednesday, November 15, 2023, which condemned the Syrian regime’s continuation of gross, systematic, and widespread violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law. This latest resolution also 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, in Security Council resolution 2254 of December 2015, and finally in the statement on cessation of hostilities issued in February 2016.

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 imprisoned 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.


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