Considering the preparations for Syria’s session in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) scheduled for 24 January 2022, a joint report has been developed by the Access Centre for Human Rights, The Guardians of Human Rights organization, Doctors and Lawyers for Human Rights organization, The Day After, and Justice for Life organization. The report discusses the human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic. In particular, it describes violations committed against Syrian returnees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), including arbitrary arrests, torture, and violations of housing and property rights. Moreover, it emphasizes the exacerbating effects of these violations on victims due to the systematic nonavailability and inaccessibility of identity documents.
Based on their field work, each organization documented the violations committed in the areas of its operations. The documentations include detailed evidence, figures, and facts. Accordingly, the organizations provided several recommendations to be adhered to by the Syrian government to end violations, including abandoning discriminatory laws and enacting legislation that enables Syrians to restore their rights and litigate without discrimination before fair trials that comply with international standards.
The organizations follow up on their recommendations with several States encouraging them to direct specific advanced questions to the Syrian government during the UPR. Moreover, they are exploring the possibility of converting these recommendations into workable mechanisms that respond to the human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic. In this respect, the Access Centre, The Day After, and Justice for Life met the representative of Mexico’s delegation and the representative of the Peruvian delegation to the Human Rights Council on 9 November 2021 and 12 November 2021, respectively. Each meeting lasted for more than an hour, during which the organizations presented their joint report. The organizations also held a meeting with representatives of a number of United Nations Member States, including the United Kingdom, Austria, Germany, Spain, and Sweden, on 25 November 2021.
This brief paper lists the most important points covered by the joint report and the most prominent recommendations. The full report can be viewed in the attachment.
First: Arbitrary Detention and Enforced Disappearance:
- Arbitrarily arresting men, women, and children without informing them of the reason for the arrest continues. The Syrian Arab Republic continues to abuse detainees in detention, despite accepting several recommendations in this regard during the last UPR session in 2016.
- The return of refugees and internally displaced persons is negatively affected by arbitrary detention campaigns and torture in the government detention facilitates. The participating organizations have documented tens of arbitrary arrests of returnees in the government-control areas, including refugees in Lebanon who have been deported to Syria despite their involvement in settlements/reconciliations imposed by the Syrian government on returnees.
- Men of conscription age are being detained despite paying fines and being granted exemption from compulsory military service.
- Despite the hundreds of complaints that have been submitted to the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances, the Syrian Government has not cooperated, nor has it disclosed the whereabouts and fates of victims.
- Arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, and death under torture occur in areas where the Syrian government forces gained control under armistice or reconciliation agreements.
Second: Torture and Ill-Treatment Against Detainees:
- Detainees in the Syrian government’s detention facilities have been tortured, degradingly insulted sexually and physically abused, humiliated, and threatened; they have been forced to torture other detainees under duress.
- Detainees have been subjected to full or partial nudity, genital mutilation, and rape with rods. The participating organizations documented forced pregnancies of women who had been raped during detention.
- Physical and psychological suffering of those released, including effects on reproductive health and social and economic situation.
Third: Violations of Property Rights and Lack of Access to Documents:
- The Syrian government uses discriminatory legislations and laws to punish individuals, including Law No. (19) of 2012, Law No. (35) of 2017 – Law No. (10) of 2018. The organization documented cases of confiscation and seizure of the property of displaced people and refugees.
- Syrians living in areas out of the government control face grave difficulties in obtaining recognition before the law and access to their property.
- Thousands of refugees and IDPs cannot return to their areas of origin. Therefore, it is impossible to take legal actions to regain their properties, which are often seized by people in connection with the government security organs and pro-government militias. This happens in light of the difficulty of meeting the legal requirements to prove ownership, especially for the IDPs, refugees, and those pursued by the security services.
- Thousands of Syrians are affected by the loss of documents, which is reflected on their civil rights. The most prominent documents lost are personal identity, family book, birth certificate and passport. as well as proof of ownership documents.
- The loss of documents puts thousands of Syrian children at risk of losing citizenship, especially in cases where the father disappears, or is unknown, for Syrian law does not entitle women to pass citizenship to their children.
- Difficulties increase for civilians returning to government-controlled areas, as there are no documents proving family changes in areas outside government control, and thousands of civilian incidents have not been documented.
- There are discriminatory policies towards some communities that are accused of supporting terrorist groups, and this makes it difficult for them to reach official departments and obtain new documents or replace the lost ones.
The Most Prominent Recommendations
- Ratify the international Conventions on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearances and the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and criminalize the enforced disappearances under Syrian law.
- Take concrete actions to implement articles (24) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and articles (7-8) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
- Allow the commissions of inquiry to investigate violations committed in the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic.
- The Syrian government to disclose official and unofficial detention centers and provide full lists of detainees, including their current status and sentences against them.
- Provide all conditions for detainees to enjoy fair trials, including regular contact with their lawyers.
- Abolish the trials of human rights defenders and political opponents before exceptional judiciary, such as military courts and the Counter-terrorism Court.
- Take appropriate measures to protect mass graves and preserve evidence for future truth-seeking efforts.
- Commit to protecting returning refugees and internally displaced persons of conscription age from arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance and conscription.
- Detach the issue of detainees from the political solution and release all political detainees unconditionally.
- Conduct a thorough and impartial investigation and prosecution of all alleged violations.
- Adopt accessible mechanisms that comply with the rules of international human rights law to address housing, land and property issues and repeal the relevant discriminatory laws.
- Coordinate with the Human Rights Council to facilitate the IDPs’ access to obtain identity documents, such as the establishment of mobile courts to obtain new documents, the replacement of temporary documents with permanent ones, and the facilitation of assigning lawyers to carry out legal operations on behalf of displaced persons and residents of outside the government control areas.