Restrictions on Civil Society Organizations Through Repressive Practices Similar to Those of Extremist Groups
The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) states that nearly 3,000 individuals are still detained or forcibly disappeared by Syrian Democratic Forces that have restricted on civil society organizations through repressive practices similar to those of extremist groups.
The nine-page report reveals that Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are attempting to legitimize all repression, arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance, kidnapping with the aim of forced conscription, and other widespread human rights violations in the areas they control under the pretext of fighting terrorism and extremists. This tactic, according to the report, is very similar to the ploy used by the Syrian regime, which categorizes anyone who opposes its policies and calls for the change of the dynastic ruling family and the ruling family’s appointment of the government as a terrorist who must be arrested, silenced and made an example of as a warning to the rest of society.
The report notes that that the approach adopted by Syrian Democratic Forces to arrests is very similar to that of the Syrian regime, which also fails to implement any legal process or to ensure that arrests are carried out by legally authorized persons or through presentation of a warrant. In both cases, the detainee is kept ignorant of the party carrying out the arrest, the reason for the arrest and where the detainee is being held. Also in both cases, detainees are not allowed access to any legal defense and are denied access to the outside world, with their families denied any information about their fate.
The report stresses that international law prohibits the use of enforced disappearance under any circumstances, and states that emergency conditions such as conflicts and wars may not be invoked to allow its practice. There are numerous international norms and instruments that deal with the crime of enforced disappearance as the Rome Statute, Article 7 of which describes enforced disappearance as a crime against humanity when committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack, with Article 5 of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance also stressing the same point. Similarly, Article VII of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that no-one shall be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and Article 14 of the same Covenant criminalizes the coercion of any person to testify against himself or admit to an offense he has not committed. In addition, enforced disappearance violates a range of rights, such as the right to recognition of legal personality and to the freedom and security of the person, to access to judicial guarantees and to a fair trial, as well as the right of victims’ families to know the truth about the fate of the disappeared and the circumstances of their disappearance. In addition, enforced disappearance violates the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
As the report states, in the period between Kurdish Democratic Union Party forces first taking control of some areas in Syria in July 2012 up until September 2019, the SNHR team documented the detention of at least 2,907 individuals, including 631 children and 172 women (adult female) who are still being arbitrarily arrested by Syrian Democratic Forces, who have continued to detain those first taken prisoners by the Democratic Union Party. At least 1,877 individuals, including 52 children and 78 women, have been forcibly disappeared in this period.
In this regard, the report notes that since the beginning of August 2019, the SNHR team has documented several incidents of arrest, in which the SDF has targeted the founders and employees of independent local humanitarian organizations in Raqqa governorate. The SDF has worked to disseminate and spread reports among the local community claiming falsely that these organizations were linked to ISIS, terrorism and terrorists, in preparation for the arrest and disappearance of these individuals.
The report stresses that no official statement has been issued to date by the SDF or by the judicial and administrative authorities in Raqqa city regarding these arrests, creating a dangerous precedent that suggests a close similarity to the practices of extremist groups in north-west Syria in terms of repression, restriction and intimidation of civil society organizations operating in areas under their control, with the aim of subjugating and extorting the local population, and using arbitrary arrests to make the detainees a warning to others, so that nobody else dares to build civil society organizations in order to concentrate all sources of funding and support in the hands of the dominant group, in this case the Syrian Democratic Forces, which has not yet succeeded in achieving tangible achievements on various civilian levels.
The report outlines the details of incidents of arrest carried out by the SDF against six workers with humanitarian organizations in Raqqa governorate, four of whom were later released, relying on the accounts of a number of workers in local and community-based organizations in Raqqa governorate and eyewitnesses to the incidents of raids and arrests. The report also includes three accounts.
The report notes that that Syrian Democratic Forces has violated international human rights law through committing the crime of enforced disappearance. Enforced disappearance is prohibited by the customary international humanitarian law according to rule 98 which prohibits enforced disappearance in international and non-international armed conflicts. Rule 117 of the same law states, “Each party to the conflict must take all feasible measures to account for persons reported missing as a result of armed conflict and must provide their family members with any information it has on their fate.”
Further, the international criminal law prohibits enforced disappearance. According to the International Criminal Court’s Statute, practicing enforced disappearance in a systematic manner constitutes a crime against humanity (Article 7, paragraph 1-i).
As the report states, SDF has also flagrantly violated a large number of principles relating to the protection of all persons subjected to any form of detention or imprisonment, such as principles number: 1/2/3/4/6/9/11/12/15/17
The report calls on the states supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces to put pressure on them to stop arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances, to respect the rules of international humanitarian law and principles of international human rights law in the areas they control, to support the process of establishing a genuine local administration in the northeastern regions of Syria, in which all the inhabitants of the region may participate without discrimination on the basis of race and nationality and without the intervention of the de facto authorities in order to achieve stability and justice.
The report also calls on these states to support the building and establishment of an independent judiciary that prohibits military parties from carrying out arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances undeterred.
The report calls on Syrian Democratic Forces to stop all forms of arbitrary arrest, to disclose the fate of the forcibly disappeared persons, to allow their families to visit and communicate with them, to hold them to fair and independent trials, to stop the policy of restricting local and community-based humanitarian organizations and to allow them to operate.
The report urges Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI) and OHCHR to investigate the incidents included in this report, noting that the Syrian Network for Human Rights is always ready to cooperate in any such endeavors.
Lastly, the report recommends that the Human Rights Council should follow up on the issue of detainees and enforced disappearances in Syria, highlight it in all periodic annual meetings, and allocate a special session to consideration of this terrible threat.