The Syrian Regime Re-Arrests Previously Released Detainees
(Link below to download full report)
SNHR announced in its report released today that it documented at least 167 cases of arbitrary arrests/ detention in Syria in November 2020, including two children and three women, noting that the Syrian regime re-arrests previously released detainees.
The report stresses that Syrian Regime forces in November continued to persecute Syrian citizens in connection with their political dissent and expression of opinions, despite the right to both being guaranteed by the constitution and international law. In this context, the report stresses that Amongst those subjected to persecution and arbitrary arrest are a number of former detainees released in recent months, who have been harassed or rearrested under various pretexts, such as claiming that they have destroyed their personal documents, that their arrest warrants are still outstanding, or in order to conscript them for military service. Syrian Regime forces have detained these people in raids on their homes and while they were passing through regime checkpoints. As the report reveals, this yet again confirms that no Syrian citizen can feel safe from arrests since these are carried out arbitrarily, without any foundation in law and with no independent judiciary. This underlines the fact that areas under the Syrian regime’s control cannot be considered safe for residents there. All this further demonstrates that areas under the Syrian regime’s control are very clearly not a safe haven for the return of refugees or internally displaced persons (IDPs). The report stresses that there can be no stability or safety in light of the survival of the security services themselves, which have committed crimes against humanity since 2011 and are continuing to do so to date.
The report also records multiple arrests and acts of persecution of citizens in connection with reserve conscription; these reserve conscripts, whose ages range between 30 to 36 years, are primarily concentrated in the governorates of Aleppo and Damascus. The report notes that reserve conscription is illegal because the Syrian regime’s military institution is involved in committing crimes against humanity and war crimes, and has not held any of those involved accountable, but instead continues to commit violations with impunity. The report further notes that the Syrian regime has issued two administrative orders on November 18 terminating the retention and recall of reserve officers, non-commissioned officers and member reservists of certain categories.
The report reveals that Syrian Regime forces in November continued to persecute and arrest individuals who have concluded settlements of their security status with the Syrian regime in areas that previously concluded settlement agreements with the regime; these arrests have been concentrated in Daraa and Damascus Suburbs governorates, with most occurring during campaigns of mass raids and arrests.
The report notes that arrests of pro-Syrian regime media personnel in retaliation for filming reports criticizing the practices of employees during their work in service institutions. The report also documents citizens being arrested for criticizing the deteriorating living and economic conditions in regime-controlled areas.
In the context of cases in which individuals have been released, the report records in November that Syrian Regime forces released 90 detainees from various Syrian governorates, all of whom were released from regime detention centers in Damascus governorate. Most of these individuals were released under a special presidential pardon as part of a reconciliation process that targeted detainees from Daraa governorate who had previously made settlements, including dissidents from Syrian Regime forces, whose duration of detention ranged from one to two years, while others were released after the end of their arbitrary sentences, with the duration of their detention ranging from four to eight years.
As the report reveals, Syrian Democratic Forces continued enforcing the group’s policies of arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance throughout the month of November, targeting civilians for their kinship relationships with individuals in the Armed Opposition/ the Syrian National Army. Syrian Democratic Forces also carried out campaigns of mass raids and arrests, targeting many civilians on the pretext of fighting ISIS cells, with some of these campaigns backed by US-led coalition helicopters. Also in November, the report records arrests that targeted media activists, with these arrests being concentrated in Deir Ez-Zour and Hasaka governorates. Also in November, the report documents Syrian Democratic Forces carrying out arrests/ detentions targeting several families, as well as targeting several members of the same families, including elderly people, without providing clear charges, taking these detained individuals to undisclosed locations. The report records in November Syrian Democratic Forces carrying out abduction of children with the aim of taking them to its training and recruitment camps and forcibly conscripting them. Syrian Democratic Forces have prevented the children’s families from communicating with them, and did not disclose their fate.
As for Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, the report stresses that November also saw Hay’at Tahrir al Sham carrying out detentions of civilians, with arrests concentrated in Idlib city, including activists working with civil society groups, media workers, lawyers, and clergymen; most of these arrests occurred due to the detainees expressing opinions critical of the HTS’s management of areas under its control. These detentions were carried out through summons issued by the Public Prosecution Service of the Salvation Government, which is affiliated with Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, and took place arbitrarily in the form of raids in which HTS members stormed their victims’ homes, often breaking down the doors, or by kidnapping their victims while they were traveling or passing through temporary checkpoints.
The Armed Opposition/ the Syrian National Army also carried out arbitrary detentions and kidnappings in November, most of which occurred on a mass scale, targeting civilians who took part in protests criticizing opposition policies in the areas under its control and in protest against the poor living conditions; the report also records mass arrests targeting those coming from areas under the control of the Syrian regime. In addition, the report records detentions carried out under an ethnic pretext, with these incidents being concentrated in areas under opposition forces’ control in Aleppo governorate. Most of these arrests occurred without judicial authorization and without the participation of the police force, which is the legitimate administrative authority responsible for arrests and detentions through the judiciary, as well as being carried out without presenting any clear charges against those being detained.
The report explains that most of the arrests in Syria are carried out without any judicial warrant while the victims are passing through checkpoints or during raids, with the security forces of the regime’s four main intelligence services often responsible for extra-judicial detentions. The detainee is tortured from the very first moment of his or her arrest and denied any opportunity to contact his or her family or to have access to a lawyer. The authorities also flatly deny the arbitrary arrests they have carried out and most of the detainees are subsequently categorized as forcibly disappeared.
This report outlines the record of arbitrary arrests/ detention it recorded in November 2020 by the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria, as well as shedding light on the most notable individual cases and incidents of arbitrary arrest and detention that the SNHR’s team documented in November, in addition to categorizing cases and incidents of arrest according to the location of the incident. The report does not include those kidnappings and abductions in which the report was unable to identify the responsible party.
The report also documents arbitrary arrests that were subsequently categorized as enforced disappearances. A number of criteria must be met before SNHR will classify a case as an enforced disappearance: the individual must have been detained for at least 20 days without his or her family being able to obtain any information from the relevant authorities about their status or location, with those responsible for the disappearance denying any knowledge of the individual’s arrest or whereabouts.
As the report reveals, the vast majority of detainees involved in the popular uprising for democracy in Syria, including political and human rights activists, media workers, and relief activists, and similar prisoners of conscience, have been accused by the security branches of several charges based on testimonies taken from detainees by the regime under coercion, intimidation and torture, which are documented within regime security authorities’ reports, with these security reports being referred to the Public Prosecution Service, after which the majority of these cases are referred to either the Counter-Terrorism Court or the Military Field Court; the lowest conditions of fair courts do not meet in these courts, which are also closer to a military-security branch.
The report documents at least 167 cases of arbitrary arrests/ detention in November 2020, including two children and three women, 132 of which have subsequently been categorized as cases of enforced disappearance, all at the hands of the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria, with 82 of these, including one woman, carried out at the hands of Syrian Regime forces, 71 of whom have subsequently been categorized as cases of enforced disappearance. It also documents 36 cases of arbitrary arrests/ detention at the hands of Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, including two children, 28 of whom have subsequently been categorized as cases of enforced disappearance.
The report also documents 32 cases of arbitrary arrests/ detention, including one woman, at the hands of the Armed Opposition/ the Syrian National Army, 22 of whom have subsequently been categorized as cases of enforced disappearance. In addition, Hay’at Tahrir al Sham arrested/ detained 17 individuals, 11 of whom have subsequently been categorized as cases of enforced disappearance.
The report also shows the distribution of cases of arbitrary arrests in November by governorate, with Aleppo seeing the largest number of arrests documented during this period, followed by the governorates of Deir Ez-Zour then Idlib.
The report notes that the Syrian regime has issued nearly 17 amnesty decrees, the last of which was in March 2020, and many of which were similar to one another and focused on securing the release of perpetrators of crimes, felonies and offences, while including only a very small number of detainees referred to exceptional courts such as the Counter-Terrorism Court and the military field courts, and excluding the largest proportion of detainees who were not subjected to any trial during the years of their detention, who have been classified as forcibly disappeared.
The report further notes that detainees held by Syrian Regime forces are subjected to exceptionally brutal and sadistic methods of torture, and subjected to unimaginably squalid, unsanitary and massively overcrowded conditions in its detention centers without even the bare minimum of hygiene or sanitation to protect against illness and disease. The report also notes that these brutal conditions being a very deliberate and widespread strategy on the part of the Syrian regime with the aim of debasing and torturing detainees. Subjecting detainees to conditions that foster disease and infection and leaving them to suffer without medical help or treatment is another deliberate and conscious part of this strategy, forcing already physically and emotionally traumatized detainees to endure an additional layer of torment and debasement often leading to death. The report warns of the increasing danger facing prisoners in regime detention centers with the global spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in light of the brutal detention conditions that are favorable for the spread of infectious diseases such as the COVID-19 coronavirus; this now threatens the lives of approximately 130,000 people who are still documented as being detained or forcibly disappeared by Syrian Regime forces, according to the SNHR database.
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 resolutions of the UN Security Council, as well as in the 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, article 12, which states that all detainees, especially women and children, must be released immediately. Despite all these resolutions and other official statements, no progress has been made on the issue of securing the release of detainees in any of the rounds of negotiations sponsored by international parties regarding the conflict in Syria. The International Committee of the Red Cross has been unable to conduct any periodic visits to any of these detention centers, constituting a violation of International Humanitarian Law.
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. 65 percent of all detentions documented have subsequently been categorized as enforced disappearance cases, with detainees’ families being denied any information on their loved ones’ whereabouts, while anyone making inquiries about the detainees faces the risk of being arrested themselves for doing so.
The report notes that the other parties (Syrian Democratic Forces, Hay’at Tahrir al Sham and the Armed Opposition/ The Syrian National Army) are all obliged to implement the provisions of international human rights law, and that they have committed widespread violations through arrests and enforced disappearances.
The report calls on the Security Council to follow through in the implementation of Resolution 2042, adopted on April 14, 2012, Resolution 2043, adopted on April 21, 2012, and Resolution 2139, adopted on February 22, 2014, all of which demand the immediate cessation of the crime of enforced disappearance.
The report provides a set of recommendations to the Human Rights Council, to the Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI), and to the International, Impartial, and Independent Mechanism (IIIM).
The report calls on the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces to immediately end arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances, to reveal the fate of all arrested/ detained and forcibly disappeared persons, to allow their families to visit them, and to hand over the bodies of detainees who were killed as a result of torture to their families.
The report also calls on them to unconditionally release all detainees who have been imprisoned merely for exercising their political and civil rights and to publish a register containing the detainees’ data together with the reasons for their detention, the locations where they are held, and the sentences issued.
The report stresses that the UN and the guarantor parties at Astana should form an impartial special committee to monitor cases of arbitrary arrest, and reveal the fate of the 99,000 missing persons in Syria, approximately 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 human rights groups and the International Committee of Red Cross to have direct access to them.
Lastly, the report emphasizes that children and women should be released, and families and friends should not be taken as prisoners of war. The report calls on the official newly appointed to take charge of the detainees’ file at the UN special envoy’s office to include the issue of detainees at the upcoming rounds of Geneva talks, as this issue is of far greater importance to the Syrian people than other longer-term issues that can be jointly addressed later, such as the constitution.