Syrian Regime Forces Target Civilians for Detention as They Attempt to Leave Regime-Controlled Areas
Press release (Link below to download full report):
Paris – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) announced in its latest report, released today, that it documented at least 193 cases of arbitrary arrests/ detentions in September 2021, including 10 children and five women, noting that Syrian regime forces targeted civilians for detention as they attempted to leave regime-controlled areas.
The 20-page 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. Every 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/ detentions it recorded in September 2021 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 during the same period, 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.
The report notes that Syrian regime forces have continued to persecute and target Syrian citizens in areas under regime control in connection with their political dissent and expression of opinions, despite the right to both being guaranteed by the constitution and international law. This proves once again the truth of the crucial point which we have reiterated several times previously, namely that no Syrian citizen can feel safe from arrest since these are carried out without any basis in law or any oversight by any independent judiciary, and are perpetrated by the security services with no involvement by the judiciary. Following these arrests, detainees are routinely classified as forcibly disappeared persons, and therefore the areas under the control of the Syrian regime cannot be considered to constitute any sort of safe haven for residents there; all this underlines the fact that regime-controlled areas of Syria are very definitely not a safe haven for the return of refugees or IDPs. The report stresses that there will be no stability or safety in light of the survival of the regime’s brutal security services, who have committed crimes against humanity since 2011 and are still continuing to do so up to the current date. The report adds that among the arrests and detentions documented by SNHR in September were those by Syrian regime forces that continued in September to persecute and arrest individuals who had concluded settlements of their security status with the Syrian regime in areas that had previously concluded settlement agreements with the regime; these arrests have been concentrated in Damascus Suburbs and Daraa governorates. The repro also records a number of arrests carried out by the Criminal Security branches in Homs, Aleppo and Damascus, targeting civilians, including university students, under the pretext of their communicating with external media organizations and talking about the deteriorating living conditions in the areas under the control of the Syrian regime. In addition, the report records arrests targeting a number of civilian traders and merchants, in connection with their stopping their commercial activities and attempting to leave the country, with these detainees charged with carrying out acts that would harm the ‘prestige’ of the Syrian state. These arrests were concentrated in Aleppo city. As the report documents, Syrian regime forces carried out arrests targeting civilians, including children, in Deir Ez-Zour city, while they were passing through one of the regime checkpoints at the southern entrance to the city, on their way from Deir Ez-Zour city to Damascus city. The report also records arrests targeting Palestinian refugees by members of Liwa al Quds, an unofficial militia affiliated with the Syrian regime, in raids on their places of residence in al Neirab Camp for Palestinians in the suburbs of Aleppo governorate.
The report also arrests targeting civilians in connection with their efforts to travel to areas outside the control of Syrian regime forces, with these arrests being concentrated in Damascus city.
In the context of cases in which individuals were released in September, the report records the release of 11 detainees held by the Syrian regime, all of them from the governorates of Damascus Suburbs, Daraa, and Deir Ez-Zour, who were released from regime detention centers in Damascus governorate, after the end of their arbitrarily imposed sentences; the former detainees spent an average period of one to three years in the Syrian regime’s detention centers, within extremely poor conditions which included being subjected to torture, and enduring an almost complete lack of healthcare and medical care, and severe overcrowding, while all had been arrested without receiving any explanation of the reasons for their detention and without any arrest warrants being provided.
As the report reveals, Syrian Democratic Forces continued enforcing the group’s policies of arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance in September, as SDF carried out campaigns of mass raids and arrests, targeting civilians on the supposed pretext of fighting ISIS cells, with some of these campaigns backed by US-led coalition helicopters. The report also documents arrests targeting students, teachers and members of the Christian Syriac Orthodox Creed Council, over their criticism of and refusal to adopt the educational curriculum imposed by the SDF in its areas of control. The report also records a number of arrests targeting members of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, over their participation in an anti-SDF protest criticizing the poor living and service conditions and arrests in the areas controlled by SDF. As the report adds, Syrian Democratic Forces again kidnapped children in September with the aim of taking them to its training and recruitment camps and forcibly conscripting them, preventing their families from communicating with them, and failing to disclose their fate.
As for Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, the report stresses that September also saw Hay’at Tahrir al Sham detaining civilians, including media activists and politicians, with these arrests concentrated in Idlib governorate; 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 arbitrarily in the form of raids in which HTS members stormed their victims’ homes, often breaking down the doors, or by abducting their victims while they were traveling or passing through temporary checkpoints. The report also documents arrests carried out by Hay’at Tahrir al Sham personnel in Kafrayya town in the northern suburbs of Idlib governorate, in connection with a protest against the Turkistan Islamic Party in front of the Turkistan Islamic Party’s court building, in al Fou’a town, after the party ordered a number of displaced persons to leave their homes in order to seize control of them. In addition, the report documents Turkistan Party personnel arresting elderly civilians for refusing to leave the houses that the party wants to seize.
As the report reveals, all Armed Opposition factions/ Syrian National Army also continued carrying out arbitrary detentions and kidnappings in September, most of which were carried out on a mass scale, targeting individuals, including women, coming from areas controlled by the Syrian regime. In addition, the report documents detentions carried out under an ethnic pretext, with these incidents being concentrated in areas under all Armed Opposition factions’/ Syrian National Army’s 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 also documents the kidnapping of a civilian by personnel affiliated with the Syrian National Army’s 20th Division, known as Soqoor al Sonna, with the kidnapped man being brutally tortured while he was completely stripped naked, and forced to apologize to those torturing him as they filmed these debased acts, before being released.
The report documents at least 193 cases of arbitrary arrest/ detention in September 2021, including 10 children and five women, with 154 of these cases subsequently categorized as cases of enforced disappearance, all at the hands of the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria; 87 of these, including seven children and two women, were carried out at the hands of Syrian regime forces, while Syrian Democratic Forces detained 71 individuals, including three children. The report also notes that all Armed Opposition factions/ Syrian National Army detained 26 civilians, including three women, while Hay’at Tahrir al Sham detained nine civilians.
The report also shows the distribution of cases of arbitrary arrests in September across the governorates, with Aleppo seeing the largest number of arrests documented during this period, followed by the governorates of Deir Ez-Zour, Hasaka, then Daraa.
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 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, 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. 68.25 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.
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, which demand the immediate cessation of the crime of enforced disappearance.
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 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 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 be released, and families and friends of detainees or wanted individuals should not be detained as prisoners of war, with the report also providing additional recommendations.