Many thousands of people have been arbitrarily arrested and detained without charge or trial in Syria since the country’s state of emergency came into force more than twenty years ago. There have also been reports of torture, “disappearances,” and extrajudicial executions carried out by the security forces.
The targets of these human rights abuses have come from a wide range of backgrounds and have included a former president, former government ministers, trade unionists, traders, doctors, lawyers, and students—and even a number of children.
On April 26 this year Amnesty International submitted a memorandum on its concerns to the Syrian government and subsequently offered to publish any comments it had. No response was received. A seventy-two-page Report from Amnesty International to the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic based on the memorandum was published on November 16. The following material is based on the report.
John G. Healey
Amnesty International, USA
Syrian security forces have practiced systematic violations of human rights, including torture and political killings, and have been operating with impunity under the country’s emergency laws.
There is overwhelming evidence that thousands of Syrians not involved in violence have been harassed and wrongfully detained without chance of appeal and in some cases have been tortured; others are reported to have “disappeared” or to have been the victims of extrajudicial killings carried out by the security forces.
Pattern of arrests
Amnesty International’s new report on Syria describes a pattern of arbitrary arrests by the security forces using the State of Emergency Law which has been in force throughout the country for more than twenty years. Syrian citizens are liable to arbitrary arrest or abduction and no one can depend on the protection of the law, the report says.
Amnesty International has collected the names of over 3,500 people reported arrested and detained without trial in a two-year period up to December 1981. Arrests on this scale result from the power security forces have to seize any suspect at any time without immediate reference to a central authority. The organization has received reports of relatives being held hostage while security forces sought political suspects. Such hostages have included wives and young children—and in one case three relatives were held hostage in detention for six years before being released in 1980.
Those arrested may be held without charge or trial for years—at the end of October, Amnesty International was working for the release of seventeen people held in preventive detention for over twelve years and another three hundred held for between two and nine years. Once arrested, political suspects face indefinite incommunicado detention and possible torture. Even their whereabouts may remain secret.
Amnesty International’s report lists twenty-three methods of ill-treatment and torture reported by former detainees, including electric shocks, burnings, whippings with braided steel cable, sexual violations, and the forcing of detainees to watch relatives being tortured or sexually assaulted.
Extracts from testimony by twelve former detainees who made charges of torture are …