The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) announced in its report released today that it documented at least 147 cases of arbitrary arrest/ detention in Syria in April 2021, including one child and 19 women, noting that arrests/ detentions and enforced disappearances continue, and that Syria is an unsafe country for refugees to return to.
The 30-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. 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/ detentions it recorded in April 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 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 April were those by Syrian regime forces showing that they continue 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 Aleppo and Daraa governorates, with most occurring during campaigns of mass raids and arrests and at checkpoints. The report also records random arrests in Daraa governorate, as well as assaults against civilians while they were passing through Syrian regime checkpoints. The report further documents arrests carried out by the Criminal Security Branch targeting politicians and civilians, including college students, in connection with their criticism of the deteriorating living conditions and corruption in regime-controlled areas.
In the context of cases in which individuals have been released, the report records the release of 11 detainees held by the Syrian regime in April, mostly from Damascus Suburbs and Daraa governorates; these detainees were released from regime detention centers in Damascus and Latakia governorates, with most being released after the end of their arbitrarily imposed sentences. The report notes that the former detainees spent an average period of one to nine years in the Syrian regime’s detention centers, in extremely poor conditions which included being subjected to torture, and enduring an almost complete lack of health 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 April, carrying out campaigns of mass raids and arrests, and targeting many civilians on the pretext of fighting ISIS cells, with some of these campaigns backed by US-led coalition helicopters. The report also documents arrests and the burning of homes in retaliation for anti-SDF demonstrations, with these arrests being concentrated in Raqqa governorate.
As for Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, the report stresses that April also saw Hay’at Tahrir al Sham detaining civilians, with the targets of these arrests, which were concentrated in Idlib governorate, including media activists and politicians; most of these arrests occurred due to the detainees expressing opinions critical of the HTS’s management of areas under its control, or on other charges, such as treason in favor of Syrian Democratic Forces. These detentions were carried out arbitrarily in the form of raids in which HTS members stormed their victims’ homes, often breaking down the doors, by kidnapping their victims while they were traveling or passing through temporary checkpoints, or through issuing summons for interrogation by the Ministry of Justice of the HTS’ Salvation Government.
The Armed Opposition/ Syrian National Army also continued carrying out arbitrary detentions and kidnappings in April, most of which were carried out on a mass scale, targeting women under the pretext that they were trying to cross the Turkish border illegally, before releasing them later. The report also documents the beating of a lawyer working in a court located in an area under the Armed Opposition/ Syrian National Army’s control, as a result of which the Bar Association suspended pleadings in the courts. In addition, the report documents detentions carried out under an ethnic pretext, with these incidents being concentrated in areas under the Armed Opposition/ 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 documents at least 147 cases of arbitrary arrest/ detention in April 2021, including one child and 19 women (adult female), with 109 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; 56 of these, including one child and three women, were carried out at the hands of Syrian regime forces, 52 of whom have subsequently been categorized as cases of enforced disappearance. Meanwhile, Syrian Democratic Forces detained 49 individuals, including one woman, with 32 of these cases subsequently categorized as cases of enforced disappearance.
The report also notes that the Armed Opposition/ Syrian National Army detained 28 individuals, including 15 women, 13 of whom have subsequently been categorized as cases of enforced disappearance. In addition, Hay’at Tahrir al Sham detained 14 individuals, 12 of whom have subsequently been categorized as cases of enforced disappearance.
The report also shows the distribution of cases of arbitrary arrests in April across the governorates, with Aleppo seeing the largest number of arrests documented during this period, followed by the governorates of Raqqa, Daraa, then Idlib.
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 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 maintaining these brutal conditions is a very deliberate and widespread strategy on the part of the Syrian regime with the aim of further 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 policy, forcing already physically and emotionally traumatized detainees to endure an additional layer of torment and degradation 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, including nearly 3,329 health care personnel, 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.
The report notes that the other parties (Syrian Democratic Forces, Hay’at Tahrir al Sham and the Armed Opposition/ 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 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 of detainees or wanted individuals 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, with the report providing additional recommendations.