As the revolution of the Syrian people approaches its fifth anniversary, the failure to help release a single detainee or ease the suffering of the hundreds of thousands of Syrians detained by the Syrian regime continues. Yet, thousands upon thousands of detainees are still waiting for help and looking forward for the day in which they receive the freedom they deserve and have very bravely earned. Hence, Save The Rest presents below a list of demands and measures that we perceive as highly needed and urgent. It is important to note, however, that in our constant communication with current and former detainees, the demand for accountability and justice still persists as an overarching demand and an essential prerequisite for sustainable peace in a new Syria.
The demands below are meant not as a substitute to that overarching right to freedom and justice, but as means to ensure that those still in detention survive to that day. Below are our immediate and urgent demands that we perceive as unequivocal agreed-upon rights. The same rights have been communicated to the negotiations committee to be integrated into the confidence-building measures:
- The unconditional release of all detainees and prisoners of conscience, including women, children and all prisoners who were arbitrarily arrested against the backdrop of the Syrian revolution.
- Halt all executions issued on cases related to the current events issued since 2011 in Syria by the regime courts, especially the First and Second Field Military Court, the Counter-terrorism Court in Damascus and the different military and extraordinary tribunals of all types.
- Open all detention centers and prisons run by the Syrian government and its security apparatus, and those affiliated to the groups of national defense, popular committees and other militias affiliated to the government for inspection by international and local inspectors and human rights and humanitarian institutions. In addition to granting recognized international and local jail monitors free access to all detention centers, both official and non-official, without prior notice.
- The acquisition of lists of all detainees from the regime, which include information on the dates and reasons of arrest, charges filed and the current location of detainees.
- Put an end to the incidents of forced disappearance and arbitrary detentions.
- Grant international humanitarian missions access to the military prison of Sednaya and the Military Police Branch in Damascus to check on the living conditions inside the said prisons, ensuring the provision of medical care, food relief and in kind (clothes, covers.. etc), and working on transferring sick detainees who need special medical care to civil hospitals.
- The abolition of the Field Military Court (and all rulings thereof), transferring all civil detainees referred thereto, who are not included under the categories of the immediate release, to civil courts. In addition to transferring military personnel detained to the military judiciary.
- Cease the enforcement of the Counterterrorism Law and abolish the Counterterrorism Court (and all rulings thereof). Transfer the civil detainees referred to the said court, who have not been included under the categories of the immediate release, to civil courts. Transfer the military personnel detained in the said two courts to military courts.
- Transfer all detainees in security apparatus jails or secret detention places affiliated thereof, or the detainees at other bodies affiliated to the government, limiting the right to arrest only to the civil police, pursuant to the law.
- Transfer civil detainees, who have not been included in the categories of the immediate release, detained in all military prisons (prisons of the military police in Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Suwaida and the military prison of Sednaya), as well as those in security branches detention centers to civil prisons, ensuring their right to communicate with their families and facilitating visits procedures.
- Allow relevant international organizations to evacuate sick detainees to civil hospitals and transfer all detained at military hospitals (Tishreen military hospital, Maysalon hospital 601) to civil hospitals under the supervision of international organizations, such as ICRC, or local ones, such as the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.
- The closure of all prisons and detention centers belonging to the militias and paragovernmental forces (Deira Shmeil detention center in Hama run by al-Ba’th Battalions, The Sport Facility in Qatana – Damascus countryside run by the forces of the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party, Maysalon detention center, and others..).
- The closure of detention centers run by the Syrian army or the intelligence located within military bases, which puts detainees’ lives at risk, given that detainees locked there are both civilians and military personnel. Although run by the intelligence and the heads of security apparatus, being located in locations not under their supervision and due to the lack of monitoring, violations there are more recurring and easier to happen (the Fourth Brigade detentions; air force intelligence temporary jails, State Security temporary jail, the runways temporary jails in the Mezzeh military airport). The risk comes from the reality that the area is unsafe and the area is a combat zone (Sasa branch belonging to the military security).
- Provide a list of individuals executed pursuant to judicial rulings and another list of individuals who died in prisons and detention camps, with information including places of burial. Provide the records on deaths that happened in prisons to an impartial committee of the ICRC to inform families about the fate of their detained, forcibly disappeared and lost family members.
We would like to highlight the following issues that we believe resulted in the ineffectiveness of previous efforts in regards to the detainees issue and the lack or even complete absence of actual achievements in this regard:
First: who are the detainees in Syria:
Definitions and categorization on detainees are numerous. However, for several factors, because the crimes of arbitrary detention and forced disappearance constitute a systematic policy of the Syrian government and affiliated militias as a cheap weapon to stifle the struggle of the Syrian people for their rightful demands. We hereby stress that any resolution or statement shall include a clear explanation for the word “detainees” which shall refer to all those who were detained against the backdrop of the Syrian revolution since 2011. It’s imperative not to leave the term broad and interpretable by the regime that is accustomed to describe its detainees with descriptions and terms that allow it to dodge and evade responsibility just as its claim that there are no political prisoners in its prisons and all those detained are terrorists or criminal inmates, or any other of the groundless terms the regime uses. From the start, regime’s policy was established on the narrative that the regime is combating terrorists, violent extremists, and takfirists, based on the requirements of each phase. Since the outbreak of the protests, the regime called the civil protesters: saboteurs, instigators or Muslim brotherhood members. With the escalation of the conflict, the regime was consistent in calling all detainees as armed persons and terrorists. Then every individual detained by the regime received trumped-up charges for being takfirists, armed persons, terrorists and Wahhabis. Charges filed against one individual may change according to two factors:
First – Regime’s image in the eyes of the world, providing evidence to its allegations;
Second – the continuation of arrests against activists, as means of pressure on Syrian society and the International community at the same time.
To cite one example that qualify to be a pattern used with large numbers of detainees:
A 20-year-old man was arrested for an image found in his mobile phone wearing a hat that resembles the colors of the flag of the revolution. The man was arrested in January 2013. The first three months he was considered forcibly disappeared because nobody knew his whereabouts. Although witnesses have seen the arrest at a regime checkpoint, the regime continued denying having the man arrested during these months.
After these three months that he spent in the security branches’ detention places he was referred to the Counterterrorism Court and was put in Adra central prison temporarily waiting to see the judge. After five months of waiting he was surprised at the court, that his charge was joining an armed group. The investigative judge decided to lock him in and referred his case to the criminal Counterterrorism court.
A general pardon was issued in mid-2014 and the charge of the young man was included in the pardon, however he wasn’t released and he was surprised that a ruling was concluded against him after he was re-indicted with a new charge that wasn’t included in the pardon. The new charge was “the acquisition of a weapon” which wasn’t filed in the first time.
The man was sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment he is serving now in one of the Regime’s prison away from his college he was heading to when he got arrested and away from his family that are not allowed to visit him.
Second – The bodies that have the right to arrest
Arrests and forced disappearance and death under torture are not limited to the governmental security bodies. Other bodies affiliated to the government have similar practices such as Syrian students union, the Syrian army or other groups affiliated with the ruling party such as al-Ba’th Battalions, or government militias such as the National Defense Forces and Popular Committees and Nosour al-Zoubaa (the hurricane eagles) affiliated with the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party. in addition to the Shi’ite militias affiliated to Iran and Hezbollah operating in Syria. Such militias now have areas of under their control and prisons, most of which are secret. They arrest civilians and torture them, when interrogation period gets to an end, they transfer those left alive, for whom they do not want to negotiate a ransom, they send them to the security branches under trump-up allegations. (Recently, we have documented cases where students affiliated to the Syrian Students Union arrested their colleagues from the exam halls, beaten them up and sent them to the security branches. Salamiya town has become controlled by the National Defense militias, and recently there were leaks on the crimes perpetrated by its head, Mousib Salama who kidnapped, detained and killed civilians). Therefore, we believe that such practices and organizations, tolerated/sponsored by the regime as long as they are loyal to it, shall be indicted and such practices shall immediately be stopped.
Third – detention conditions, and the detainees’ right to life
The current and future efforts for the release of detainees and putting an end to the injustice they have been undergoing, could be faced with the intransigence and smugness of the regime and the continuity of such crimes perpetrated by the regime and its militias. However this shall not stop us from other ways for supporting their cause and saving their lives. This could be accomplished by the restoration of the role and independence of international organizations, to make the living and health conditions in prisons and detention centers humanely acceptable. There is no justification for the ICRC to turn a blind eye to the needs of detainees for medicine and medical treatment, or not to visit the prisons and detention centers or at least to the hospitals where detainees are moved to. Such hospitals have become human slaughter houses and places to kill them and collect their corpses. There is no justification for the WHO to turn a deaf ear to the calls of the proliferation of tuberculosis among detainees in Sednaya prison and other detention centers such as Hama Prison. There is no rationale for the world to tolerate having a spot in this world, namely Sednaya prison, whose infame has become a stigma on the forehead of humanity.
The impunity the regime and its security personnel enjoy is a driver for them to continue committing crimes against the detainees and the Syrian people. We suggest to impose sanctions on the militias and their commanders, ensure permanent monitoring (directly or through the means of high-tech equipment) on detention centers as evidence on the war crimes perpetrated.
It is highly necessary for any resolution to be issued to be binding and unnegotiable for the regime. Whenever there is room for more than one interpretation to the resolution, or loose formulation of its wording, the regime is awarded with an opportunity to procrastinate and make the resolution meaningless and void. To cite one example on that, the scandal of the UN in regards to the besieged areas.