After 15 years of delay, Syrian authorities have not found it useful to explain to us why we had not been entitled to this report in 1984.
In 1984, the number of the political prisoners (Syrians and Arabs) in the Syrian prisons was 18 000 people, the number of disappeared was around 3100 people. It was also the occasion to give us some explanation on the collective massacres that took place in Hama (1982) and on the reality of a human carnage (which was revealed by Nizar Nayyof – who is still in prison today) in the neighborhoods of the prison of Palmyre. Rifaat Assad, the brother of President Hafez Assad, orchestrated the massacre of more than 700 political prisoners. It is unjust to put these atrocities on the account of the current President, atrocities that were committed at a time when he did not have a political role in the country. But the responsibility for each Syrian citizen today is to rebuild the future by repudiating these inhumane methods. To ignore this black page of our contemporary history would amount to blatant complicity, which we should as human rights activists strongly denounce. The report of the Syrian government was prepared on January 19 2000; in other words, before the death of President Hafez Assad. So it reflects the past more than the present or the future, and it expresses a set language, which does not have a place at this time. After the promises of the speech of investiture, the Syrian society has chosen the policy of WAIT AND SEE. In spite of the release of almost 600 Syrian and Arab prisoners and a major reduction in the number of the arrests during the last 8 months, it is difficult to speak about notable change. On the occasion of the 31st anniversary of the state of emergency in Syria (08/03/1994), I spoke about the «thermometer of austerity “, which constituted our compass on the situation of the human rights in Syria. Nowadays, these questions are always valid:
1 – Can we find an authorized independent organization of human rights and fundamental freedoms, which can work freely without interference in its activities?
2 – Does the government respect the principle of a warrant for arrest and the time limits of police custody or control the limits of the extra judiciary?
3 – Does it respect the right of a multiparty system to exist and to exert their right of expression?
4 -Does it accept the independence of the judicial system, lawyers and trade unions?
5 – Does the sovereign government prevent the serious violations of the human rights or, on the contrary, take part in these violations?
6 – Does it respect the rights of cultural, national or religious minorities?
- Does a policy of the promotion of human rights exist?
Does it authorize the democratic means of defense of the individual?
9 – Did the international bill of human rights form part of the governmental references within the framework of fundamental freedoms and the rights of the person?
10- Does it guarantee a minimum of social and economical rights for a life worthy of citizen?
For all these minimal standards, doe we have any positive responses in Syria today?
The Syrian constitution is an example of partiality, ideologization and is arbitrary. From several points of view, it is in contradiction with the pact relating to the civic and political rights. It adopts the ideology of the Baas Party openly in its preamble. The word democracy had not the right to be mentioned (in the English translation of the official report Paragraph 14 – one can read: «The Syrian Arab Republic is a democratic, people’s socialist state». But the better translation of the Arab text of the first article of the Constitution is: « the Syrian Arab Republic is a popular democracy and socialist state ».
The Syrian Constitution «nationalizes » the state and the society for the political account of one party (article 8). It limits public freedom to the respect of principles which the executive power does not respect: the construction and the protection of socialism, as well as the right to form an NGO, which is limited by the respect of old programs of the Baas party that even this party does not respect any more (article 49).
The prevalence of the executive power is very important in articles 111, 132, 139, 149. Article 28 about the independence of the courts does not guarantee impartiality and competence. It is also the case of chapter 3 on the judicial power. In spite of its weak points, the constitution has never been a reference in the political process; in fact the laws of have dominated the political scene in the country since 1963.
A STATE lacking laws
In a general way, it is possible to summarize the question of the confiscation of democratic and public freedoms in the following way:
- The persistence of the state of emergency and the submission of the country to martial laws since the 8/03/1963, this in spite of the absence of any legal justification or objectives called upon by the government. In this illegal ” and abnormal situation “, the laws, and the constitutional guarantees making it possible for citizens to defend their rights became quite simply ineffective. In addition, new laws were promulgated that go against what was envisaged by the national constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights. An example is ” the principal law of the civil state workers” at the beginning of 1984 and in particular article 138 which authorizes any person of the hierarchy to lay off a subordinate when it seems appropriate to him and without justification. Another example is that of the law of the confederation of journalists of 1989. And there exist plenty of other examples. According to martial law, the governor of the martial law has the right, like all the sections of the security services (currently more than a dozen), to arrest any citizen, from his house or in the street or on his place of work. The procedure is carried out without need to present ” a warrant for arrest ” or to obtain authorization from the Attorney General. It is in the same way possible to hold this same citizen indefinitely. The citizen Saad Jaoudat Said was arrested on the day of the referendum because he voted no. He remained there in prison for two months without any charges being brought against him. Hussein Daoud, expelled from FRG on the 12/12/2000, was arrested by the security forces. Questioned under torture, he was transferred to the Military Hospital 601 in Damascus. He remains in detention without any charges being brought against him.
Approximately 1200 Syrian, Palestinian, Jordanian and Lebanese prisoners are in the Syrian jails because of these ” illegal” laws. According to martial law, Syrian citizens do not have the right to form political associations, organizations or parties, in order to express or to defend their opinions. Concerning trade-union freedoms, the official authorities continue to make more unconstitutional violations and interventions with regard to the trade unions. The organizations of workers and students are infiltrated in their activities and their elections. The hierarchy is often imposed. We will quote only certain obvious examples, those concerning the elections of the confederation of the trade unions of the workers, the doctors, the engineers and the journalists. The Chamber of Commerce is until now the only trade-union organization entitled to elections, and is not controlled and relatively free within the framework of the policy of “economic pluralism”.
- In 38 years, the systematic marginalization of justice upset the values and created a true legal underdevelopment marked by the domination of the extra-judiciary. The omnipresence of the emergency courts, re-appearing since1992, makes it possible to work of jure et de facto in total infringement of the regulations of the international instruments. The Higher State Security Court judged more than 500 prisoners of opinion in 4 years, including some after 15 years of detention without charges ever brought against them. To expose these lawsuits in detail can only further harm the image of Syria’s already sick extra judiciary institutions. All things considered, the humiliation of justice, lawyers, families and of all the democrats, lawsuits based on interrogations with confessions extorted under torture, of lawyers not having the right to discuss with their customers before the lawsuit and the president of the court categorically refusing any testimony. The rules of procedure applied by the court are of course in contradiction with the guarantees of the right to an equitable lawsuit, which it is of the principle of contradiction and the right to be correctly defended, of the principle of publishing the debates, the right of appeal to a higher jurisdiction, right to the investigation of allegations of tortures or, right to be judged by an independent and impartial court.
Each time that a prisoner purges his sentence, he is transferred to a section for interrogation to sign a document of a personal self-criticism in a spirit of later collaboration, including a condemnation of his own party and a promise not to be involved politically ever again, and of course supporting the policies of the President. We will like to mention the case of doctor Abdel Aziz Al-Khayyer, the head of the Communist Party arrested in 1992 and condemned to 22 years of prison, and the defender of the human rights Nizar Nayyouf, condemned to 10 years of prison.
Last but not least, one month before the publication of the official report, more than 100 prisoners were arrested arbitrarily for political reasons (See the list with this report)
- Another law of exception is that quoted in the paragraph 60 concerning the capital punishment in the Syrian legislation. This law stipulates, «Anyone who joins the Muslim Brotherhood organization is condemned to death » (art. 10 of Act No. 49 of 8 July 1980). The change that the movement of the Moslem brotherhood has known in the last 20 years, its criticism of any form of violence and the adoption of a democratic program are not enough to stop this legislative «policy».
- All citizens, regardless of their occupational or social status have a legally guaranteed right to seek legal remedy in respect to any act of injustice committed against them. Article 319 of the Penal Code stipulates that: «Any act that is likely to prevent a Syrian from exercising his civil rights or fulfilling his civil obligations shall be punishable by detention for a term of one month to one year». Article 57 of the Syrian Code of Criminal Procedure is also explicit in this regard, since it affirms that: «Anyone who deems himself to be the victim of a felony or a misdemeanor has the right to file a complaint with the Department of Public Prosecutions, which has an obligation to institute public proceedings if the complainant brings a personal action». In regard to the exercise of this right, the code makes no distinction between one person and another on grounds of color, gender, race, religion, language or even nationality and this legal right applies to any offence committed against the claimant.
- Article 28, paragraph 3, of the Syrian Constitution stipulates that: «No one may be subjected to physical or mental torture or degrading treatment, the perpetrators of which shall be liable to the legally prescribed penalties.»
- Under the legislation, it is prohibited to subject an accused or convicted person or any person under judicial investigation, to any mental or physical pressure with a view toward the extortion of a confession or information. Article 391 of the penal code stipulates as follows:
«1. Anyone who subjects a person to illegal acts of violence with a view to obtaining from him a confession to an offence or information pertaining thereto shall be liable to a penalty of detention for a term of three months to three years.
2If such acts of violence cause sickness or wounds, the minimum penalty shall be one year’s detention.»
- Any act that is likely to prevent a Syrian from exercising his civil rights or fulfilling his obligations is punishable by detention for a term of one month to one year if it is committed through the use of threats, violence or any means of physical or mental coercion (Article 319 of the Penal Code).
- The courts look into any allegation by a citizen concerning his subjection to physical or mental torture or degrading treatment, award appropriate compensation and impose the prescribed penalty. (from the OFFICIAL REPORT)
Syria still has not ratified the convention for abolishment of torture, and yet on March 13,1986, the Syrian representative at UN said in an oral argument to the 42nd session of the Commission of Human Rights in Geneva: “Torture is generally practiced in the absence of laws or in the non-application of the current laws under the domination of a non-democratic government, which prevents its citizens from taking part in political life. The judicial system bends to the political power preventing thus anyone from having his right to have his day before the courts and the recognition by the security forces of the truth (… Although torture aims at the man as a human being, its goal is to dehumanize the human (…). Whatever the called upon reasons or motivations, especially in a state of war or occupation or for prisoners of war, torture cannot be justified as a mean of obtaining information or humiliation (…). I must say that the Convention Against Torture adopted by the General Assembly of UN drew the attention of the Syrian authorities. For that, the Ministry for Justice prepared a law, which declared the adoption by Syria of the Convention, which will be made public very soon. We hope that in the next session of the Commission, next year Syria will become one of the signatories of the Convention “. We are here at the 57th session, fifteen years after this intervention, and Syria still has not ratified the Convention. What follows is a non-exhaustive list of the prisoners who died following torture or with ill treatments inflicted since this official promise:
1987 : Ahmad al-Abbas, Ibrahim Ahmado, Muhammed al-Arraj, Ahmad As’ad Ghanoum, Ihsan Izzo, Umar al-Jamil, Ahmad Jaroud, Haytham Khoja, Rif’at al-Rachid, Taha Abdelrazzaq Sarhan, Mudhar al-Jundi.
1988 : Abdel Razzaq Abazid, Muhammad Rashid Abbas, Ridhwan Dughaim, Umar Wahid Haidar, Muhammed Issa al-Mane’, AbdelKader Murtada, Saleh Rukhaima, Wajih Shihadeh, Musa Zaydan, Ahmad al-Zir.
1989 : Muhammed Hashem, Muhammed Hassan, Khidr Jabr.
1990 : Zahi Abadi, Muhammed Dawud, Mounir Francis, Ziad Musa Qatnani.
1991 : Jamal Hassino, Hussein Zaydan.
1992 : Mounir al-Ahmad, Ahmad Rif’at Rajab.
The international campaign after the death under torture of engineer Mounir Francis and the tragedy of Doctor Nour Eddin Attasi undoubtedly played a key role in the precautions taken after this date. This had not prevented the death under not yet elucidated conditions of Mr. Salah Jedid nor the ” calculated ” end of Mr. Karim Al-Haj Hussein (25/12/95), 23 hours after his release or of the journalist Rida Haddad who was not released in spite of an advanced cancer. Arrested in 1970, Haddad remained in detention for fifteen years. The verdict of the Higher State Security Court was pronounced after 14 years of arbitrary detention without judgment or lawsuit. It came out of the prison of Adra to enter the French Hospital of Damas and to die one year later (17/06/1996), leaving a moving testimony on the slow torture practiced by the security forces. Another victim of torture still remains in the prison of Sednaya. He told his story before the Higher State Security Court on March 2, 1993 without succeeding in moving the judges, here are the extracts:
” On December 7, 1986 at dawn, a patrol made up officers (it quotes two names) and other agents of Fara Falasine/235 / (center of detention in Damas) made came to my home to arrest me. Not finding me at the house, they struck my wife in front of our small daughter, who was then four years old, and took her along to Fara Falastine, where one separated her from her two daughters, of whom the younger was only one month old (… During her absence, the house was ransacked by the moukhabarat. It is what my wife could note on her return a few days later (… They made pressure on the owner so that it refuses to honor his engagement in our connection and expels my family. I ask the court to examine the injury caused by the forced expulsion of my wife and my two children.
Since my arrest on September 19, 1987, I was awfully tortured to extract information, by whipping me and making me undergo the “German chair “. They burned certain parts of my body acid, crushed my fingers and subjected me to psychological tortures while whipping and by insulting my wife in front of me and while making my mother come and then threatening to torture her. They hit me with blows of fists, kicks and I had the broken nose… One pulled apart my legs so as to cause a fracture of the tailbone. And during all this time, my interrogation continued. It was only at the end of six days that I was led to the hospital to attend to my fracture. The medical care was delayed for three days by the moukhabarats The doctors declared that I needed a treatment that could require at least two months of hospitalization. Once started, the care was stopped with much resumption because of the pressure exerted by the officers on the doctor who looked after me. At the end of three weeks, this one ended up yielding and stopped my treatment before it was not completed I left the hospital on October 22, 1987, handicapped for life. Repression continued during four years in the prison of Palmyre without I being entitled to a medical consultation “.
(Mohammed Mradni is condemned to fifteen years of prison with forced work and deprivation of his civic rights). The torture inflicted on our colleague Nizar Nayyouf leaves after-effects for life. It is because he requested medical attention that he underwent months of isolation. The torture, exerted against more than 18,600 prisoners with forty practiced methods, remains unpunished.
Critical cases in prisons
The following is a non-exhaustive list of political prisoners in a very bad health
Fares Murad (in prison since 1975), Haytham Na’al (in prison since 1975), Imad Shiha (in prison since 1975), Abdul Wadud Yousof (in prison since 1980) Ibrahi A’ssi (in prison since 1980), Mouhammed Moumar (in prison since 1986), Mouhamed Nizar Mradni (in prison since 1987), Nizar Nayyouf (in prison since 1992)
Freedom of expression
- In Syria, freedom of expression is safeguarded and conscience constitutes the only form of censorship of freedom of thought. Every citizen has the right to participate in political, economic, social and cultural life (art. 26 of the Constitution) since Syria has a press association known as the «Journalists’ Federation». (OFFICIAL REPORT)
The ministry of information imposes a strong censorship on all the sources of information likely to provide information to citizens or to enable the citizens to have opinions that go against the political line and ideological of the government. Throughout the period of Hafez Assad, only the newspapers of the Baas Party were authorized.
Today the Syrian authorities grant these types of authorizations to only party members in power.
That being, the censorship is not limited to the ministry for information. Often, the security services took on this role. They arrested known writers, intellectuals and thinkers, in order to them question on interviews, conferences or debates, which they gave. The ministry for information often pushes the writers of official journals to defame certain writers and intellectuals for their view. It is the case in the attacks orchestrated against the people of the forum of the renaissance of civil society (Ihia al-mujtama al-madani).
The following categories of nationals are exempt from having to obtain exit visas or any other type of authorization:
- Persons over the age of 50.
- Persons who have performed military service or paid a fee in lieu thereof or who are exempt there from on health grounds or because they have performed military service in a foreign army.
- Women over the age of 18, with the exception of those between the ages of 18 and 35 travelling to certain countries.
- Persons whose passports were issued less than three months previously.
- Citizens living outside the country and holding valid foreign residence permits and citizens holding foreign passports who leave the country less than three months after entry.
Persons leaving to perform the pilgrimage, and holding special hajj travel documents.
(180 OFFICIAL REPORT)
The continued interference the intellectuals undergo by the authorities prevents the publication of their cultural works. Of my 21 books, only one is authorized: «The Universe of Sleep ». Even the Short Universal Encyclopedia of Human Rights is prohibited in Syria). Let us not forget that the government requires its citizens, whether they are Syrian or Palestinian, to obtain an authorization from the security forces for an exit visa from the country. This visa became a weapon in the hands of the government enabling it to punishpersona non grata, intellectuals or politicians. The last ruling from the chair concerning the right of each citizen to a passport does not concern the political opponents and their families. Mrs. Najah Shara, wife of an ex-political prisoner and mother of a human rights defender is not entitled to a passport for medical reasons. One can quote a hundred names of members of families of the political opposition who have been denied a passport.
These extra legal practices often exceed the framework of the individuals to include whole groups and cultural institutions.
The official report confirms that: Syrian law in no way restricts the exercise of this right except where necessary in order to protect public safety, national security, public order, the rights of others, public health or public morals. In Syria, the right of citizens to assemble and demonstrate is denied only if the assemblage or demonstration in question is likely to become riotous and disturb public peace, etc. (paragraph 282). However, in reality we note another thing:
These last years, the authorities tightened their control on the intellectuals so much so that any work, manuscript, article, and even the short speech given in the mosque on Friday must be reviewed by the security forces to obtain their consent, if not, prohibition will be guaranteed for them. As we started to have a respite after the death of General Assad, there has been a multiplication of spontaneous meetings organized in private homes and the appeal of 99 intellectuals followed by an appeal by 1000 intellectuals for democratic reform in the country. However a counterattack was organized by the Baas Party and the security forces in order to take the upper hand and paralyze any initiative of free expression. The National Command of the Baas Party published the circular 1075, which was republished by the internal newspaper of the party «al-Munadhel ») and classified all the reformers in terms of the past colonial era and unstable period in Syria. They focused particularly on the independent deputy Riad Seef, founder of the unauthorized Movement of Civil Peace, the Committee of Rebirth of the Civil Company and the intellectuals of the opposition, as well those in exile inside or outside the country. It considers «The Baas Party, the guide of state and society that is the only force entitled to take initiatives and to determine the prospects of the future».
Since 19/02/2001, five conditions were imposed for the organization of cultural meeting in a private house:
An application for authorization presented to the governor 2 weeks before the date of the meeting.
Obtain authorization for the person who speaks.
3) The list of names of the people who will have to take part in the debate.
4) Formulating an idea on the envisioned debate.
5) The place and the duration of the meeting Mountada.
Here is the testimony of Habib Saleh after having presented a request of this kind:
« Irequested from the governor of Tartous, Aram Saliba, there is 2 weeks an authorization which answers the required conditions, the night of Wednesday 14/03/2001 two agents of political Security had given a negative answer. Just after, an officer and 3 elements of the police force came at home wondering to sign a promise not to take part in the meetings ever again. Was it not Dr Bashshar Assad who declared on Saturday the 17/3/2001, that the heritage of his father is an untouchable subject?
Occupied Syrian territories
June 5 2000 was the 33rd anniversary of the occupation of Golan by Israel. This occupation obliged more than 82 thousand Syrians to take refuge in the camps close to Damas and Dara. (Today, they are 400 thousands refugees). Contrary to international law, Israel destroyed 139 villages after the military confrontation ended. It builds 33 colonies inhabited by 13160 Israelis. Nearly 16000 Syrians live under the occupation. Israel continues to violate all the resolutions concerning its occupation of the Arab territories. The Arab Commission of Human Rights asks all the IGOs to have a clear-cut position on the occupation by Israel of the Arab territories. It takes this occasion to demand the release of all Syrian prisoners in the Israeli prisons:
1 . Wiam Mahmoud Amasheh
2 . Amal Ewadat
3 . Hayl Hasan Abu-Zaid
4 . Asam Mahmoud Al-Weli
5 . Basheer Soulayman Al-Maqet
6 . Soudqi Soulayman Al-Maqet
7 . Zikan Nemer Al-Wadi
8 . Yasser Khanjar
9 . Radwan Jamil Jawhari
10 . Imad Sami Ewedat
11 . Zahio Nayf Awadf
There is no significant difference between the two sexes regarding health, while a large chasm separates them in connection with illiteracy. 84% of men are able to read and write, but only 50 % of women are literate. On the level of the primary school, 11% separate the two sexes. At the university level, the percentage of the women is 20,75 %. Those occupy 18 % of the whole work force of the country with nearly 500 000 women in economic activities. Syria did not sign the International Convention against any form of discrimination between the two sexes. Several laws or jurisprudences are in contradiction with the provisions of convention, here some examples: The law No 134 of the 31/12/1975 deprives, in its article 5, the woman of the maintenance (nafaqa) as soon as she works without the authorization of her husband. Article 197, relating to the heritage, gives to the man 2 times the share of the woman who is located in the same degree of relationship. The wages of women are several sectors lower than those of the men. Syria did not sign either the conventions of ILO N 100 or 111.
The QUESTION OF BIDOUN )persons without nationality(
On August 23, 1962, the Syrian government promulgated an Order in Council (n.93) authorizing a special census of the population in the province of Djazira. On October 5th of the same year, some 60 000 Kurdish were reclassified as foreigners. The plan of the “Belt Arabe” (Al-Hizam Al-Arabi) envisioned the expulsion of the Kurdish population established throughout the border with Turkey. After the declaration of a state of emergency on the 8th of March 1963, successive governments continued this policy of discrimination.
The arrival of the Assad General to the capacity in 1970 slows down the project of the Arab Belt without repealing it. The seats of Kurdish at the assembly of the people will be decided from the top to slow down democratic political mobility in the area. The policy which will prevail will be to support those which work against the social opposition and political arabo-Kurdish, and the successive governments will not hesitate to play the chart of naturalization for Bidoun (Kurds without indentity card) in order to exert pressure over the Kurdish political movement. November 11, 1986, the Al-Hassaka governor published the decree n.1012/SAD/25, which prohibited the use of the Kurdish language in the workplace. On December 3, 1989, Mr. Mohamed Mustafa Miro, the actual Prime Minister, the Al-Hassaka governor, promulgated order n-1865/SAD/25, which reiterated this prohibition and banned non-Arab songs during marriages and festivals, which is in contradiction with the Syrian constitution. (the Voice of the Democracy, newspaper of the C.D.F, published this order in its November 1990 issue).
At the same time the ministry of the interior issues decision n-122, which binds any Kurdish child to register with the appropriate authorities, and since October 1992 dozens of Kurdish children were not registered because their parents gave them first names of Kurdish origin.
The Syrian government agreed, for the first time, to answer the questions of a ONG about the Kurds. It sent on12/07/1997 a detailed response to the American organization Human Rights Watch in which it describes how those of Kurdish nationality are treated like foreigners. It gives figures very close to our estimates (142465 according to the government). The legal part of the answer does not even deserve to be approached for one does not even find there the traces of international engagements of Syria. On the other hand, in the current report a sentence draws our attention: « Any person born in the country which, with the birth, did not have the right to acquire a foreign nationality by way of affiliation. (a child born in the country to a father who has lost his nationality of origin for an unspecified reason is Arab Syrian.) ». This sentence touches more than 2 / 3 of Kurds who have no nationality, is it a legal recognition of the right of the bidounchildren to a Syrian nationality? We would like your committee to put this question to the Syrian government.
The second category of those without nationality made up of those in political exile outside Syria. This category touches more than 27 thousands people (the figure does not take into account their children and their little children).
The ACHR is counting the exact number of those in exile without nationality. We ask your committee to intervene to solve the problem of the Kurds and exiled Syrians, for each Syrian is entitled to nationality.
– End of the arbitrary arrests and release of all the political prisoners Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian. The right of return of all exiled people with legal guarantees within the frame of a general amnesty.
– Abolition of the state of emergency and martial law and the democratic reform of the Constitution.
– Promulgation of a modern law, which authorizes and organizes the activity of the parties, associations and the press, by guaranteeing real pluralism.
– Ratification by Syria of the Convention of the UN convention against torture and CIDAW.
– Official Recognition of the legality of all the ONG for defense of the civil society, human rights and fundamental freedoms, while granting the right of observing the condition of human rights and violations of public and democratic freedoms in the country.
REMARKS ON THE SECOND PERIODIC REPORT
That should have been presented by Syrian Arab Republic in 1984