The authorities remained intolerant of dissent. Those who criticized the government, including human rights defenders, faced arrest and imprisonment after unfair trials, and bans from travelling abroad. Some were prisoners of conscience. Human rights NGOs and opposition political parties were denied legal authorization. State forces and the police continued to commit torture and other ill-treatment with impunity, and there were at least eight suspicious deaths in custody. The government failed to clarify the fate of 49 prisoners missing since a violent incident in 2008 at Saydnaya Military Prison, and took no steps to account for thousands of victims of enforced disappearances in earlier years. Women were subject to discrimination and gender-based violence; at least 22 people, mostly women, were victims of so-called honour killings. Members of the Kurdish minority continued to be denied equal access to economic, social and cultural rights. At least 17 people were executed, including a woman alleged to be a victim of physical and sexual abuse.
Syria remained under a national state of emergency in force continuously since 1963, which provides the authorities with wide powers of arrest and detention.
In January, a progressive law was adopted to prohibit and criminalize the trafficking of people.
In July, the Ministry of Higher Education prohibited women from wearing the niqab (face-covering veil) in universities.
In September, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food expressed concern that an estimated 2 to 3 million people in Syria were living in “extreme poverty” and urged the government to develop a comprehensive national strategy aimed at realizing the right to adequate food.
In October, arrest warrants were issued against 33 Lebanese and other nationals in response to a case initiated by Jamil al-Sayyed, one of four senior Lebanese officials who were detained without charge or trial in Lebanon for more than three years in connection with the investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in 2005. The four officials had been released by the Lebanese authorities in 2009 after the prosecutor of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) confirmed that the STL was unable to indict them within the legal timeframe.
A new law apparently intended to tighten controls on internet-based media was reported to be under consideration.Top of page
The authorities continued to use state of emergency powers to punish and silence their critics, including political activists, human rights defenders, bloggers and Kurdish minority rights activists. Critics were arbitrarily arrested and detained for long periods without trial or imprisoned after unfair trials before the Supreme State Security Court (SSSC) or military or criminal courts. Human rights NGOs could not obtain licences to operate, exposing members who are lawyers to disciplinary action by the government-controlled Bar Association. Hundreds of people considered to be dissidents, including former political prisoners and members of their families, were barred from travelling abroad; some were barred from working in the public sector.
Suspected Islamists and suspected members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood faced arbitrary arrest, prolonged detention, torture and other ill-treatment, and unfair trials, usually before the SSSC which rarely imposes prison sentences of less than five years. Those convicted of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood were sentenced to death but their sentences were immediately commuted to 12-year prison terms. Hundreds of convicted Islamist prisoners were held at Saydnaya Military Prison, where conditions were harsh.
Torture and other ill-treatment were used extensively and with impunity in police stations and security agencies’ detention centres. According to reports, suspected Islamists and members of the Kurdish minority were subject to particularly harsh abuse. The SSSC and other courts often convicted defendants on the basis of “confessions” alleged to have been extracted under torture or other duress.
In May, the UN Committee against Torture expressed concern about “numerous, ongoing and consistent” reports of torture by law enforcement and investigative officials, at their instigation or with their consent, particularly in detention facilities, and criticized the “quasi permanent” status of state of emergency legislation which “allows the suspension of fundamental rights and freedoms”. The government did not respond and had not implemented any of the Committee’s many recommendations by the end of 2010.Top of page
Eight deaths in custody possibly as a result of torture were reported; none was known to have been investigated by the authorities.
The authorities took no steps to account for thousands of people, mostly Islamists, who disappeared in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and others abducted in Lebanon by Syrian forces or by pro-Syrian Lebanese and Palestinian militias, who then handed them over to Syrian forces in the years before they withdrew from Lebanon in April 2005. The authorities also failed to disclose what occurred at Saydnaya Military Prison in July 2008, when 17 prisoners and five other people were reported to have been killed and since when there has been no information or known contact with 49 prisoners held there at the time. In May, the UN Committee against Torture urged the government to carry out an independent investigation and to “inform the families of those prisoners if their relatives are alive and still held in prison”.
Women faced discrimination in law and in practice, and high levels of violence, particularly within the family. Laws assigning inferior status to women as compared to men, notably the Personal Status Law governing marriage and its dissolution, inheritance and other matters, remained in force. Such discrimination was reinforced by social customs.
Women and girls were inadequately protected from violence within the family: the Penal Code prescribes lower penalties for murder and other violent crimes committed against women when defence of family “honour” is considered a mitigating factor. At least 16 women, two men and four children under the age of 18 were reported to have been victims of so-called honour killings. In November, a joint study by the government and the UN Population Fund reported that one in three women suffers domestic violence in Syria. The government was reported to be planning to establish a National Family Protection Unit and a National Observatory for Domestic Violence.Top of page
Kurds, who comprise up to 10 per cent of the population and live mostly in the north-east, continued to experience identity-based discrimination, including restrictions on use of their language and culture. Tens of thousands of Syrian Kurds were effectively stateless, further restricting their access to social and economic rights.
Syria continued to host hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees who had access to its education and health infrastructures, but continued to be denied the right to work.
On 1 February, the authorities and UN agencies permanently closed the desolate camp at al-Tanf in the border area between Iraq and Syria, where Palestinian refugees who were long-term residents of Iraq had lived. Out of the 1,300 Palestinian refugees who had lived at different times in the camp, around 1,000 were relocated to third countries while the rest were temporarily moved to al-Hol camp in north-east Syria.Top of page
Death sentences continued to be imposed and at least 17 people were executed, although the true number may have been much higher. The authorities rarely disclose information about executions.
In December, Syria was one of a minority of states that voted against a UN General Assembly resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions.Top of page