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At least 1,236 Arbitrary Detentions, Including of 56 Children and 30 Women, Documented in Syria in the First Half of 2024, with 217 Recorded in June

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At Least 126 Forcibly Deported Refugees Have been Arrested Since the Start of 2024

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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 1,236 cases of arbitrary arrests were documented in the first half of 2024, with those detained including 56 children and 30 women. Meanwhile, 217 of the 1,236 cases documented in the first half of 2024, were documented in June. The report also notes that at least 126 forcibly deported refugees have been arrested since the start of 2024.

The 27-page report reveals that, as SNHR’s database confirms, about 73 percent of all arbitrary detentions carried out in Syria subsequently turn into enforced disappearances, with the Syrian regime being responsible for about 88 percent of all the arbitrary arrests documented. Naturally, given these staggering rates of arbitrary arrest, 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 also stresses 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 pass a multitude of laws and decrees that violate international human rights law, as well as the principles of law and the parameters of arrests and interrogation established in domestic legislation and by Syria’s current Constitution, most recently amended in 2012. Moreover, the Syrian regime has legitimized the crime of torture, disregarding the existence of several texts in Syrian law that explicitly 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 proscriptions, however, other quasi-legal texts have been introduced, including Law No. 16 of 2022 on Criminalizing Torture, which explicitly contradict the aforementioned legal articles, and legitimize impunity.

The report summarizes the arbitrary arrests/detentions and the releases of detainees from various detention centers documented as having been carried out by the parties to the conflict and controlling forces in the first half of 2024 up to, and including June. The report does not, however, 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 its reportage, the report incorporates a descriptive and analytic methodology.

The report documents no fewer than 1,236 cases of arbitrary arrest/detention in the first half of 2024, with those detained including 56 children and 30 women (adult females). Of these, 1,007 have subsequently been classified as enforced disappearances. Syrian regime forces were responsible for 549 of the 1,236 arrests, including of eight children and 14 women, while Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) were responsible for 121. Additionally, all armed opposition factions/Syrian National Army (SNA) were responsible for 219 arrests, including of two children and nine women, while Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were responsible for 347, including of 46 children and seven women.

The report also shows the distribution of these cases across Syria’s governorates. Analysis of the data shows that Aleppo governorate saw the highest number of arrests in the first half of 2024, followed, in descending order, by Deir Ez-Zour governorate, then Rural Damascus governorate, then Idlib, Damascus, Homs, and finally Hasaka. The report also compares the number of arbitrary arrests/detentions carried out by the parties to the conflict and controlling forces in Syria with the numbers of releases of detainees from the various forces’ detention centers documented in the first half of 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 by regime forces. On the subject of releases, the report records at least 398 releases from the various detention centers in Syria in the first half of 2024, including of 13 children and 11 women.

The report documents no fewer than 217 cases of arbitrary arrest/detention in June 2024, with those detained including eight children and five women (adult female). Of these, 177 have subsequently been classified as enforced disappearances. Syrian regime forces were responsible for 93 of the 217 arrests, including of two children and three women, while HTS was responsible for 38. Additionally, all armed opposition factions/SNA were responsible for 34 arrests, while the SDF was responsible for 52, including of six children and two women. Meanwhile, the report recorded 81 releases from the various detention centers in Syria in June 2024, including of three children and three women.

The report stresses that the Syrian regime intensified its arrest operations in the first half of 2024, with these arrests taking place in various contexts, ahead of the promulgation of an anticipated amnesty decree. Another indicator is the noticeable increase in arrest rates which coincided with a noticeable drop in prisoner releases or transfers. Meanwhile, regime courts and detention centers are compiling lists of sentenced detainees, detainees on trial, and detainees who have yet to appear before a court. Usually, the regime follows these intensified arrests with releases in order to create a false perception among the public and the international community that it is enacting positive change through the promulgation of the amnesty decree.

The report also documents more arrests/detentions of refugees who had been forcibly repatriated from Lebanon. These arrests, which took place at the al-Masna Border Crossing on the Syrian-Lebanese border, were carried out after the Lebanese army had carried out raid and arrest campaigns targeting Syrian refugees in Lebanon who were then deported to the border. Most of those arrested at the border by Syrian regime forces were taken to regime security and military detention centers in the governorates of Homs and Damascus. Since the start of 2024, SNHR has documented that at least 126 of the refugees forcibly deported from Lebanon, including four children and three women, have been arrested by regime forces. Furthermore, the report documents arrests/detentions targeting returning “refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs)” as they were trying to go back to their original areas which are now under the control of regime forces. Those arrests targeted refugees returning from Lebanon, and from Jordan via the Nasib Border Crossing in southern Daraa, as well as via the Damascus International Airport in Damascus city.

There were also arrests/detentions targeting a number of civilians simply for voicing their demands, criticizing the worsening living situation in regime areas, or supporting the popular movement in Suwayda governorate, on social media. Those arrested included university students, and pro-regime media figures. These individuals face a variety of charges on the grounds of the Counter-Cybercrime Law. These arrests were concentrated in the governorates of Latakia and Tartus.

Additionally, the report documents widespread arrests/detentions of civilians by regime personnel in the governorates of Rural Damascus, Hama, Homs, and Daraa on the pretext of the detainees failing to join the regime’s 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.

The report also records arrests/detentions carried out for the purpose of extorting money targeting civilians who had received external money transfers on the pretext of their supposedly dealing in a foreign currency. While these arrests took place in various Syrian governorates, they were particularly concentrated in Rural Damascus, Damascus, Hama and Aleppo.

In addition, the report documents arrests by regime security authorities targeting civilians visiting immigration and passports departments to obtain travel documents. These arrests were concentrated in the governorates of Damascus, Hama, and Homs. Another pattern documented by the report was seen in arrests/detentions carried out by members of pro-regime militias/informal regime forces targeting passengers and staff on the public buses that transport passengers between regime-held areas and SDF-controlled areas in Aleppo city, as well as widespread, random arrests/detentions targeting citizens, including university students, in the governorates of Damascus, Rural Damascus, and Daraa, which the report believes were the result of ill-intentioned and malicious security reports.

On a related note, the report stresses that, through these arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances carried, the Syrian regime continues to violate the orders of the Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued in November 2023, on requesting provisional measures in the case brought by Canada and the Netherlands against the Syrian regime on the application of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Meanwhile, the report notes, the SDF also continued to enforce the group’s policies of arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance throughout the first half of 2024. In pursuit of these policies, SDF personnel have 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. Additionally, the report documents arrests/detentions of civilians over accusations of working with the SNA. Some of the arrests/detentions carried out were accompanied or followed by severe beatings of the civilians detained. Moreover, the report documents more arrests/detention of civilians for forced conscription, with these detainees taken to SDF military training and recruitment camps, which are concentrated in SDF-controlled areas of Aleppo governorate. Furthermore, the report documents arrests/detentions, primarily in Hasaka governorate, targeting members of Kurdish parties over voicing views critical of the corruption and poor living conditions in SDF-controlled areas.

Meanwhile, the report documented arrests of individuals over their alleged affiliation with Arab tribes involved in clashes with the SDF, with these arrests being concentrated in Deir Ez-Zour governorate.

Meanwhile, the SDF also continued abducting children with the objective of conscripting them for military training, with these children being sent 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 the first half of 2024. These arrests, which were concentrated in Idlib governorate and some areas of rural Aleppo governorate under the group’s control, targeted media activists, political activists, and local dignitaries. Most of these arrests were carried out in connection with the detainees expressing opinions critical of HTS’s management of areas under its control. These detentions are routinely arbitrarily carried out 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’ judiciary summoned a number of media activists and workers with humanitarian groups for interrogation and to warn them against violating the policies enforced by HTS in the course of their work.

Furthermore, armed opposition factions/SNA continued carrying out arbitrary arrests/detentions and kidnappings in the first half of 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, the report documents 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 any 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 some of the villages which are administratively part of Afrin city in Aleppo governorate.

Additionally, the report documents arrests/detentions by the SNA’s Military Police that targeted refugees and IDPs returning to their homes after being displaced when the SNA took over Afrin in 2018. These arrests/detentions were concentrated in a number of villages that are administratively a part of Afrin city.

The report also documents arrests/detentions of civilians by the SNA’s ‘al-Hamza Squad’ in retaliation for the detainees holding Nowruz celebrations. These arrests were concentrated in Atman village, administratively a part of Afrin city. A number of individuals were also arrested for trying to travel from regime-held areas to the Syrian-Turkish border in attempts to irregularly cross into Türkiye. These arrests were concentrated in Afrin city.

Moreover, the report documented arrests/detentions targeting civilians in response to their demanding the return of their homes which had been seized earlier by the SNA. Those arrests were concentrated in Afrin city.

On the subject of releases, the report documents the release of 107 detainees, including three children and five women, by Syrian regime forces in the first half of 2024. The report also documents the release of seven detainees in connection with the amnesty decree promulgated by the Syrian regime on April 30, 2022 (Decree No. 7 of 2022). The detainees in question were released from the government complex in Daraa city and Adra Central Prison in Rural Damascus governorate. It is worth noting that the application of Amnesty Decree 7/2022 is, to this day, evidently conditional on the end of the prison sentences of those detainees who were partially included in this amnesty. In Damascus governorate, the report documents the regime’s release of 24 individuals originally from the governorates of Aleppo, Hama, Daraa and Damascus. These detainees 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 ranging from one to seven years. The report also documents the release of 76 individuals, including three children and five women, who were held for a few days without appearing before a court. Most of these detainees came from the governorates of Rural Damascus, Aleppo, and Daraa, and most had spent the duration of their detention in regime security branches.

As the report further reveals, 113 people, including eight children, were released in the first half of 2024 from SDF detention centers, where they had been held for various periods ranging from a few days to six years, with most of these detainees originating from the governorates of Deir Ez-Zour, Aleppo, Hasaka, and Raqqa. Most of these releases were the result of meditation by tribal intermediaries or came after the detainees had completed their sentences.

Meanwhile, the report documents HTS’ release of 84 individuals from its detention centers in Idlib governorate in the first half of 2024, with the released detainees having been detained for periods ranging from a few days to three years, without any clear charges being brought against them. On the other hand, all armed opposition factions/SNA released 94 individuals, including two children and six women, after detaining them for periods ranging from a few days to one-and-a-half years 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 by many UN bodies, being used in numerous 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 notes, 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 further notes that, in light of the continuing high rates of arbitrary arrests, torture, and enforced disappearance at the hands of Syrian regime forces, we see no indicator of any willingness on the Syrian regime’s part to end torture or comply with the ICJ’s order for provisional measures since its issuance on November 16, 2023. Even worse, the regime continues to imprison 135,638 arbitrarily arrested detainees/forcibly disappeared persons in its detention centers, all of whom are still being subjected to torture, which further confirms that the Syrian regime explicitly continues to contravene the Convention against Torture, which the regime ratified in 2004, and continues to fail to comply with the Convention.

The report additionally 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 UN Security Council to follow through with the implementation of Resolution 2042, Resolution 2043, and Resolution 2139.

The report also 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 that the 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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