10 facts on Syria

#SyriaNotSafe!
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In Germany, deportations to Syria are repeatedly a topic of discussion. We have summarized the key facts on this here—including key sources on the human rights situation in Syria.

Last Update:
October 2019

1. Syria is a Torture State

Long before the start of the 2011 uprising, the Assad regime’s rule was based on oppression, surveillance, arbitrary detention, systematic torture and killings.

Since 2011, well over 100,000 people have been tortured by Assad’s secret services and militias loyal to the regime. Tens of thousands died under torture or inhuman detention conditions. Around 100,000 people have disappeared in the torture prisons.

Torture, enforced disappearances and executions are also currently being used by the regime as a tried-and-tested means of securing power — those responsible do not yet have to fear any punishment.

1.1 General information about torture in Syria

Torture, rape and other abuse by state security and intelligence services are widespread and systematically applied, in official and inofficial detention centres especially, but also at checkpoints and during house searches. Many prisoners are repeatedly and routinely tortured and subjected to the systematic withdrawal of food, water, fresh air, medicine and medical assistance.

In addition to other sources, the UN Commission on Inquiry reports that even detained children under the age of 13 are being tortured, among other reasons to put pressure on their families. Torture in Syria is well documented, the following sources are by no means exhaustive.

1.1.1 General sources on torture in Syria

Status Report of the german Federal Foreign Office (Lagebericht des Auswärtigen Amtes), November 2018:

The Status Report of the german Federal Foreign Officestates that “police, law enforcement agencies and, above all, security and secret services systematically use torture practices”, “in particular against opposition members or people who are classified by the regime as oppositional”. (p.15) In concrete terms, the status report deals with “the systematic use of torture in a total of 27 institutions”, but stresses that it must be assumed that torture is also perpetrated in other decentralised detention centres under regime control (p.16).

It is also said that torture does not stop at children in Syria. (p.16) The report cites the case of Hamza Ali Al-Khateeb, for example, who was already tortured to death in May 2011: In May 2011, when “the regime handed over the body of 13-year-old Hamza Ali Al-Khateeb to his family in Daraa, [he] had severe bruises, bruises, burns, mutilated genitals and three gunshot wounds”.(p.16)

About the prison conditions it says: “Prisoners are crammed together in the most confined space, corpses are sometimes only cleared away after days, medical care hardly exists, and hygienic conditions are terrible”.(p.18)

The report notes that in Syria “there is no realistic possibility of effective criminal prosecution of torture or other criminal acts by security forces”. (p.16)

Caesar Files

Central evidence of systematic torture in Syrian prisons are the so-called Ceasar files, a collection of 55,000 photographs documenting at least 6,700 corpses showing traces of torture, ill-treatment or starvation. The images were taken in 2014 by a deserted photographer of the Syrian military police in two military hospitals near Damascus and smuggled out of the country by him. Neither the German government nor the UN have any doubts about the authenticity of the photos.

Informations of ECCHR zu den Caesar-Fotos:

https://www.ecchr.eu/fileadmin/Hintergrundberichte/Hintergrundbericht_Syrien_Folter_CaesarFotos_StrafanzeigeDeutschland_ECCHR_20170921.pdf

Research by HRW on Ceasar-Files:

https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/12/16/syria-stories-behind-photos-killed-detainees

UN-Report on Ceasar-Files:

https://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2014/244

HRW: Torture Archipelago: Arbitrary Arrests, Torture, and Enforced Disappearances in Syria’s Underground Prisons since March 2011 (7/2012)

“Since the beginning of anti-government protests in March 2011, Syrian authorities have subjected tens of thousands of people to arbitrary arrests, unlawful detentions, enforced disappearances, ill-treatment, and torture using an extensive network of detention facilities, an archipelago of torture centers, scattered throughout Syria.”

https://www.hrw.org/report/2012/07/03/torture-archipelago/arbitrary-arrests-torture-and-enforced-disappearances-syrias

UN OHCHR: «Surrounded by Death»: Former Inmates of Aleppo Central Prison (8/2014)

https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Countries/SY/AleppoCentralPrison.pdf

HRW: If the Dead Could Speak – Mass Deaths and Torture in Syria’s Detention Facilities (12/2015)

Report by Human Rights Watch based on the Ceasar Files and statements of victims and defectors.

https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/12/16/if-dead-could-speak/mass-deaths-and-torture-syrias-detention-facilities

UN Human Rights Council: Out of Sight (3/2016)

„Detainees held by the Government were beaten to death, or died as a result of injuries sustained due to torture. Others perished as a consequence of inhuman living conditions. The Government has committed the crimes against humanity of extermination, murder, rape or other forms of sexual violence, torture, imprisonment, enforced disappearance and other inhuman acts.“

“Eyewitness accounts and documentary evidence strongly suggest, however, that tens of thousands of people are detained by the Syrian Government at any one time.“ 

https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/A-HRC-31-CRP1_en.pdf

The New Yorker: The Assad-Files (4/2016)

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/04/18/bashar-al-assads-war-crimes-exposed

Amnesty International: It Breaks the Human: Torture, Disease and Death in Syria’s Prisons (8/2016)

„Torture and other ill-treatment have been perpetrated by the Syrian intelligence services and other state forces for decades, fostered by a culture of impunity that is reinforced by Syrian legislation. However, since the current crisis in Syria began in 2011, the situation has become catastrophic, with torture committed on a massive scale.“

„Based on the evidence presented in this report, as well as prior research by Amnesty International and the documentation of credible national and international monitoring groups, Amnesty International considers that the torture and other ill-treatment of detainees carried out by the Syrian government since 2011 have been perpetrated as part of an attack against the civilian population, pursuant to a state policy, that has been widespread, as well as systematic, and therefore amounts to a crime against humanity.“

https://www.refworld.org/docid/57b8681e4.html

Amnesty International: “Human Slaughterhouse” (2/2017)

In the report “Human Slaughterhouse – Mass Hangings and Extermination at Saydnaya Prison”, Amnesty International estimates that between 5,000 and 13,000 people were executed in Saydnaya Prison between September 2011 and December 2015, based on testimony from prison staff and detainees. In addition to the mass executions, the report also details the typical torture practices in the Saydnaya prison.

https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/MDE2454152017ENGLISH.PDF

Amnesty International: Report 2017/18

Amnesty’s report documents that torture and other ill-treatment of detainees in prisons and by the state security and intelligence services was widespread and systematic in 2017, again leading to many deaths in custody. For example, many prisoners died in the military prison after being repeatedly tortured and systematically denied food, water, fresh air, medicine and medical assistance. Their bodies were buried in mass graves.

https://www.ecoi.net/de/dokument/1425111.html

USDOS – US Department of State: Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2017 – Syria 

The report by the US-State-Department documents the most typical torture methods of the regime:

“The government continued the use of torture and rape, including of children. (…)Activists, the COI, and local NGOs reported thousands of credible cases of government authorities engaging in frequent torture to punish perceived opponents, including during interrogations. Observers reported most cases of torture or mistreatment occurred in detention centers operated by each of the government’s security service branches. Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the COI reported regular use of detention and torture of government opponents at checkpoints and facilities run by the air force, Political Security Division, General Security Directorate, and Military Intelligence Directorate.” 

“The COI noted that torture methods remained consistent. These included beatings on the head, bodies, and soles of feet (“falaqua”) with wooden and metal sticks, hoses, cables, belts, whips, and wires. Authorities also reportedly sexually assaulted detainees; administered electric shocks, including to their genitals; burned detainees with cigarettes; and placed them in stress positions for prolonged periods of time. A substantial number of male detainees reported being handcuffed and then suspended from the ceiling or a wall by their wrists for hours.

Other reported methods of severe physical torture included removing nails and hair, stabbings, and cutting off body parts, including ears and genitals. Numerous human rights organizations reported other forms of torture, including forcing objects into the rectum and vagina, hyperextending the spine, and putting the victim onto the frame of a wheel and whipping exposed body parts. Additionally, officers reportedly continued the practice of “shabeh,” in which they stripped detainees naked, hung them for prolonged periods from the ceiling, and administered electrical shocks. In August 2016 AI and the Human Rights Data Analysis Group published a detailed account of 12,270 documented killings and extensive use of torture in Sednaya Prison.

The use of psychological torture by the government also reportedly increased. One commonly reported practice was detention of victims overnight in cells with corpses of previous victims. The SNHR reported that psychological torture methods included forcing prisoners to witness the rape of other prisoners, threatening the rape of family members (in particular female family members), forcing prisoners to undress, and insulting prisoners’ beliefs.”

https://www.ecoi.net/de/dokument/1430098.html

Syria’s Disappeared: The Case against Assad (5/2017)

„Syria’s Disappeared: The Case against Assad“ documents three cases of torture and disappearances and contextualizes them with photographs and documents smuggled from Syria. The premiere took place at the United States Holocaust Museum.

http://syriasdisappeared.com
https://youtu.be/zkpeKOGv2Wg

Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR): Out of Sight (6/2018)

The annual report summarizes cases of deadly torture committed by all warring parties documented in SNHR’s database. Between March 2011 and June 2018, the report counted a total of 13,197 fatalities, including 167 children and 59 women. The number of unreported cases is probably higher. The Assad regime is responsible for 99 per cent of these victims.

http://sn4hr.org/wp-content/pdf/english/Out_of_sight_en.pdf

Lawyers & Doctors for Human Rights: “Death Became a Daily Thing”: (12/2018)

Report showing „The Deliberate and Systematic Failure to Provide for Health and Medical Care in Syrian Detention Centres“

http://ldhrights.org/en/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Death-Became-a-Daily-Thing.pdf

The Nation: How One Man Survived Syria’s Gulag (5/2019)

The Caesar photographs are supported and contextualized by numerous testimonies, including those of Omar Alshogre.

https://www.thenation.com/article/how-one-man-survived-syrias-gulag/

New York Times: Inside Syria’s Secret Torture Prisons: How Bashar al-Assad Crushed Dissent (5/2019)

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/11/world/middleeast/syria-torture-prisons.html

European Institute of Peace: Refugee return in Syria: Dangers, Security Risks and Information Scarcity (7/2019)

The report quotes testimonials of survivors of the regime prison system and demonstrates that torture methods are consistent throughout the conflict and that torture is still ongoing: “SNHR has recorded the details of at least 13,983 deaths under torture in Assad’s prisons between the beginning of the conflict and March 2019. Prison Insider, however, recorded 17,725 such deaths from the beginning of the conflict to December 2015.33 Neither of these figures is likely to represent the total number of people who have died in this way, as information about many detainees remains scarce. A December 2018 Washington Post article about the rate of executions in Syria’s prisons relied on the testimonies of those who had been released; severe torture—particularly of those recently arrested in formerly opposition-held areas—was reported to be ongoing.”

“Additional interviews with Syrians who were arrested within the last year reported that their treatment was similar to the kind of torture reported throughout the conflict, confirming that torture in detention has not subsided, nor is it limited to those detained early in the conflict.” The report includes horrifying testimonials of survivors, who were tortured in 2018. They include reports of torture against children. One aim of torture is gathering information on suspected members of the opposition.

“However, it is clear that the brutal torture that has become synonymous with Assad’s prison network remains a day-to-day occurrence. Those who are arrested while returning to the country face the same treatment and the very real risk of being tortured during detention, even if they are later released. For this reason, detentions in Syria must be treated as an urgent, ongoing danger — not a historical concern to be addressed through transitional justice and accountability mechanisms.”

http://www.eip.org/sites/default/files/EIP%20Report%20-%20Security%20and%20Refugee%20Return%20in%20Syria%20-%20July.pdf

Syrians for Truth and Justice: “In the Presence of Death” (8/2019)

Testimony of survivor “Nizar al-Abdallah,” who spent five years of imprisonment in the Syrian security services’ detention facilities.

https://stj-sy.org/en/in-the-presence-of-death/

SNHR: Documentation of 72 Torture Methods / Identification of 801 Ceasar Victims (10/2019)

Throughout the conflict the torture methods described by survivors of the syrian prison system are highly consistent. The report of Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) documents 72 torture methods which the Syrian regime continues to practice in its detention centers and military hospitals. These torture methods have caused the deaths of nearly 14,000 prisoners whos fate was documented in the databases of SNHR. As many cases of deadly torture go unreported, the real number of deaths is much higher.

“(…) we note that there is a pattern adopted in all detention centers of methods and processes of torture used by the Syrian regime, which suggests that the orders for and training in these procedures are all issued from one central point and in close coordination and exchange of expertise to deliberately create a range of the most heinous and cruel methods of torture.”

The report also reveals that SNHR has recently confirmed the identities of 29 more of the individuals who appeared in the Caesar photographs smuggled out of military hospitals, noting that the previous reports issued by the SNHR had identified 772 of these victims. The latest cases mean that, between March 2015 and September 2019, the SNHR has managed to positively identify a total of at least 801 of the victims shown in the Caesar photographs, including two children and 10 women, after receiving approximately 6,189 of the photographs smuggled out by Caesar.

http://sn4hr.org/blog/2019/10/21/54362/

1.2 Sexualized torture and rape as a weapon of war

The UN and numerous human rights organizations report systematic sexual torture of women, children and sometimes men. A report by the UN Commission of Inquiry into Sexual Violence in Syria in March 2018 suggests that the Assad regime uses rape as a weapon of war.

1.2.1 Sources on sexualized torture

UN Human Rights Council: „I lost my dignity“ (3/2018)

„Government forces and associated militias have perpetrated rape and sexual abuse of women and girls and occasionally men during ground operations, house raids to arrest protestors and perceived opposition supporters, and at checkpoints. In detention, women and girls were subjected to invasive and humiliating searches and raped, sometimes gang- raped, while male detainees were most commonly raped with objectsand sometimes subjected to genital mutilation. Rape of women and girls was documented in 20 Government political and military intelligence branches, and rape of men and boys was documented in 15 branches. Sexual violence against females and males is used to force confessions, to extract information, as punishment, as well as to terrorise opposition communities. Rapes and other acts of sexual violence carried out by Government forces and associated militias during ground operations, house raids, at checkpoints, and during detention formed part of a widespread and systematic attack directed against a civilian population, and amount to crimes against humanity. After February 2012, these acts also constitute the war crimes of rape and other forms of sexual violence, including torture and outrages upon personal dignity.” 

https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/CoISyria/A-HRC-37-CRP-3.pdf

LSE Center for Women, Peace and Security: “You want Freedom? This is your Freedom” – Rape as a Tactic of the Assad Regime (3/2017)

“Massive harassment of female prisoners, sexual assaults and repeated rapes have become part of the repressive arsenal of the Syrian government as it started to feel under threat. (…) the pattern of sexual crimes reveal that pro-regime security forces have been committing rapes in the midst of the conflict, intentionally and strategically, in circumstances and facilities under their authority and have moreover been targeting specific women. As rape has certainly not been opportunistic (besides a few exceptions), understanding how the government has been instrumentalising sexual violence militarily and politically enables us to grasp the regime’s strategy to defeat and subjugate the opposition using sectarian discourse. Sexual crimes have been part of the regime’s policy of repression and display some common patterns and a degree of organisation, which raises the issue of the responsibility of high-level officials.”

http://www.lse.ac.uk/women-peace-security/assets/documents/2017/wps3Forestier.pdf 

Lawyers & Doctors for Human Rights: 
Voices from the Dark: Torture and Sexual Violence Against Women in Assad’s Detention Centres (7/2017)

http://ldhrights.org/en/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Voices-from-the-Dark.pdf

Lawyers & Doctors for Human Rights:  
„The Soul has Died“: Typology, Patterns, Prevalence and the Devastating Impact of Sexual Violence Against Men and Boys in Syrian Detention (3/2019
)

http://ldhrights.org/en/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/The-Soul-Has-Died-Male-Sexual-Violence-Report-English-for-release-copy.pdf

Syria Justice and Accountability Centre (SJAC):
“Do you know what happens here?” An Analysis of Survivor Accounts of SGBV in Syria (01/2019)

https://syriaaccountability.org/wp-content/uploads/SGBV-report.pdf

SNHR: Documentation of 72 Torture Methods the Syrian Regime Continues to Practice in Its Detention Centers and Military Hospitals (10/2019)

“Syrian Regime forces practiced widespread and systematic sexual violence in their detention centers, affecting both males and females, and in many cases amounting to rape. We have recorded at least eight forms of sexual violence in detention centers, some of which take place constantly throughout the grueling hours of interrogation.”

http://sn4hr.org/wp-content/pdf/english/Documentation_of_72_Torture_Methods_the_Syrian_Regime_Continues_to_Practice_in_Its_Detention_Centers_and_Military_Hospitals_en.pdf

1.3 Proceedings in Germany against torturers of the Assad regime

In Germany as well as in other European countries, charges and investigations are pending against high-ranking officials of the Syrian regime. The basis for this is the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows crimes against humanity and other serious crimes to be brought before national courts, even if committed by foreigners abroad. In Germany, arrest warrants have already been issued for torturers of the regime. First trails are expected to start early 2020.

1.3.1 Details of proceedings for torture

Proceedings in Germany

The Public Prosecutor General is responsible for criminal offences that can be punished on the basis of the principle of universal jurisdiction. The organisation “European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights” (ECCHR)in cooperation with the Syrian human rights lawyers Anwar al Bunni and Mazen Darwish, has filed criminal charges with the Attorney General’s Office against high-ranking officials of the Syrian security apparatus.

In the meantime, the Public Prosecutor General has opened proceedings and issued arrest warrants. In June 2018, the Federal Supreme Court issued an international arrest warrant against Jamil Hassan. Hassan is head of the Syrian Air Force Secret Service and presumably responsible for torture in thousands of cases.

https://www.ecchr.eu/fall/deutsche-justiz-erlaesst-haftbefehl-gegen-syrischen-geheimdienstchef-jamil-hassan

In February 2019, the Public Prosecutor General executed warrants for the arrest of two Syrian citizens residing in Germany who are accused of crimes against humanity or of involvement in crimes against humanity:

https://www.generalbundesanwalt.de/de/showpress.php?newsid=819

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/13/world/europe/germany-syria-arrests.html

Proceedings in other EU States

In Austria, too, high-ranking employees of Syrian secret services are under investigation.

https://www.ecchr.eu/fall/der-weg-zu-gerechtigkeit-fuehrt-ueber-europa-zb-oesterreich

Criminal charges are also pending in Sweden and other EU countries. An analytical overview of criminal complaints and proceedings in Europe related to Syria can be found on the website justiceinfo.net (Stand 2/2019):

https://www.justiceinfo.net/en/tribunals/national-tribunals/40383-european-justice-strikes-on-crimes-in-syria.html

1.4 Torture before 2011

Even before the uprising began in 2011, the Assad regime relied on a vast apparatus of surveillance and repression, which was effectively not bound by law. There are numerous reports documenting cases of arbitrary detention, torture and enforced disappearances long before 2011.

There are several cases of people who were deported from Germany to Syria before the beginning of the current conflict and who were arrested and tortured in Syria.

Therefore, there is no reason to believe that the regime’s state organs will refrain from serious human rights violations following an end to the armed conflict.

1.4.1 Sources and individual cases of torture before 2011

HRW-Researches in the 1990s

In the 1990s, Human Rights Watch pointed to torture, enforced disappearances and other crimes committed by the Assad regime, for instance in 1991 in “Syria Unmasked: The Suppression of Human Rights by the Asad Regime (Human Rights Watch Books)” and in the report “Syria – The Price of Dissent (7/1995).

https://www.hrw.org/reports/1995/Syria.htm

Status Report of the german Federal Foreign Office (Lagebericht des Auswärtigen Amtes) March 2009

The status report of March 2008 should be read against the background that at that time Germany was close to concluding a readmission agreement in order, in particular, to be able to deport stateless Syrian Kurds to Syria. Although the situation in this report is therefore partly glossed over in order to justify the agreement, he points out that the security organs are responsible for arbitrary arrests, torture, solitary confinement and enforced disappearance – quoted is an estimation of 17,000 cases.

Status Report of the german Federal Foreign Office (Lagebericht des Auswärtigen Amtes) June 2009

The June 2009 status report makes it clear that the security services are not subject to judicial or parliamentary control mechanisms and that they are responsible for arbitrary arrests, torture and solitary confinement. The various secret services “work independently and without coordination among themselves. Each secret service maintains its own prisons and interrogation centres, which are lawless spaces”. Police, law enforcement agencies and secret services “systematically use violence against prisoners. Even in ordinary police custody, physical abuse is the norm. Physical and psychological violence is used to a considerable extent, particularly in cases with a political dimension. The ill-treatment is intended to serve as a deterrent and to make the detainees submissive, to force confessions or the naming of contact persons. In the interrogation centres of the security services, the risk of physical and mental abuse is even greater. Here, neither lawyers nor family members have access to the detainees, whose whereabouts are often unknown”.

In this report, the Federal Government confirms killings in prison: “The Federal Foreign Office assumes that prisoners regularly die as a result of violence in Syrian prisons”.

Status Report of the german Federal Foreign Office (Ad-hoc Ergänzungsbericht des Auswärtigen Amtes) December 2009

The report summarizes several cases of people who were deported from Germany to Syria under the readmission agreement agreed in July 2008. In Syria, they were intensively interrogated and imprisoned by the secret services.

As a rule, the report states, deportees are interviewed by the security services after their return. In 3 of a total of 28 cases, deportees had been detained without the Foreign Office having received any information on the whereabouts of the detainees. In view of the fact that, according to the Federal Government, the Syrian secret services are not subject to any control and systematically use violence, it must be assumed that the persons concerned were likly sujected to physical or psychological violence. The status report does not provide any information in this regard.

One case is particularly interesting: K., who was deported on 1 September 2009, was questioned on entry and was required to report to a secret service in his home town. There he was arrested and transferred to Damascus. He was accused of spreading “false news about the Syrian state abroad”, which is punishable by Syrian law with at least 6 months imprisonment. The Foreign Office states that a prison sentence of 2 to 3 years must be considered realistic. Background to the accusation: K. had taken part in a demonstration in Germany against the German-Syrian readmission agreement. This shows that the Syrian secret service is also intensively active in Germany and that returnees who have expressed themselves politically in Germany are massively endangered.

Status Report of the german Federal Foreign Office (Ad-hoc Ergänzungsbericht des Auswärtigen Amtes) March 2010

The ad hoc status report presents cases of persons deported from Germany to Syria who were arrested after their return – in many cases due to “illegal departure”. According to the report, the persons were interrogated intensively by the secret services and thus obviously exposed to a high risk of torture. The status report does not address the issue of mistreatment.

The report describes in particular the progress of the case of K., which was already addressed in the ad hoc supplementary report of December 2009. The report states that K. was released on bail in January 2010 and fled Syria again, and that he reported “mistreatment and beatings by Syrian officials during his detention”.

Amnesty International: It breaks the Human (8/2016)

“Torture and other ill-treatment have been used by the Syrian authorities to quell dissent for decades. It was particularly widespread in the 1980s and the early 1990s when the government was headed by Hafez al-Assad, father of current Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad. Arrests and torture and other ill- treatment of suspected opponents of the government were then, as they are now, mostly carried out by Syria’s four intelligence services, Air Force Intelligence, Military Intelligence, Political Security and General Intelligence (also referred to as State Security), as well as the Military Police. In a 1987 report, Amnesty International documented 38 different methods of torture and other ill-treatment practised by the Syrian security forces.”

https://www.refworld.org/docid/57b8681e4.html

Reports by Amnesty International before 2011:

All Amnesty International’s annual reports before 2011 document torture, often resulting in death, and the practice of enforced disappearance.

https://www.amnesty.de/jahresbericht/2010/syrien

https://www.amnesty.de/jahresbericht/2009/syrien

https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/POL100012008ENGLISH.PDF

Individual Cases related to Germany

Syrian citizen tortured after deportation from Germany (2008)

A 24-year-old Syrian, who was expelled in September 2008 and deported to Syria, was subsequently detained and tortured there. After he managed to flee again to Germany, the Administrative Court in Wiesbaden established this fact in a ruling of 13 January 2011 and prohibited further deportation attempts. The court had been appealed in summary proceedings because the Foreigners Authority had threatened the young Syrian to deport him again. The authorities were aware that he had been arrested in Syria after his deportation. On many pages of the verdict, the Administrative Court provided details of the torture suffered and considered the details of the torture to be credible.

http://archiv.proasyl.de/de/presse/presse-archiv/presse-detail/news/syrer_nach_abschiebung_gefoltert

The case of Ismail Abdi (2010-2011): Arrested while leaving Syria

After a visit to his family in August 2010, the German-Syrian citizen Ismail Abdi is prevented from leaving the country by Syrian security forces, imprisoned under inhumane conditions and, above all, put under psychological pressure, including repeated threats of torture. The reason is apparently his involvement in a German-Syrian human rights initiative. After his release in March 2011 he is not allowed to leave Syria. He will not be able to return to Germany until August 2011.

https://fluechtlingsrat-bw.de/files/Dateien/Dokumente/INFOS%20-%20Publikationen/Rundbrief/2012-3/rb12-3_26-27.pdf

https://www.gfbv.de/de/informieren/kampagnen/abgeschlossene-kampagnen/syrien-ismail-abdi-ist-frei

The case of Ferhad Ibrahim (2004 / 2006): Torture on false charges

The Syrian Kurdish citizen Ferhad Ibrahim was accused in 2004, during his military service, of being involved in protests against the Assad regime and planning attacks. He was tortured during interrogations and then transferred to a penal squad, which was forced to lay mines at the Israeli border, where he was injured. In 2006 he was arrested in Lebanon and then handed over to the Syrian authorities, who tortured him for a week. After his family payed bribes, he was released, but continued to be harassed and fled to Germany.

https://www.proasyl.de/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/PRO_ASYl_Flyer_Schutz_ist_wie_ein_Geschenk_2011.pdf

The case of Mohammed Haydar Zammar: Kidnapped by CIA, brought to Syria, interrogated by BND

The German islamist Mohammed Haydar Zammar, who was in contact with the assassins of September 11, 2011, was long observed by German authorities. When Zammar flew to Morocco in 2001, he was deported to Syria by the CIA with the help of information from the German services and tortured there. In 2002 he was interrogated in Syrian custody by employees of the BND and the BKA. In order to facilitate cooperation, German authorities have burst a trial against Syrian agents. Zammar is released in 2013 as part of an exchange of prisoners between the Islamist militia “Ahrar ash-Sham” and the Assad regime.

https://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/hamburger-islamist-zammar-verschleppt-verhaftet-ausgetauscht-1.1901694

The Case of Anuar Naso:Deported as a minor from Germany to Syria and abused there

Anuar Naso and his father were deported from Germany to Syria in 2011 at the age of 15. There both were imprisoned and abused. After another escape, Anuar Naso is stranded in Bulgaria, where his father is imprisoned. Only after two years is he allowed to return to his family in Germany.

https://www.nds-fluerat.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/SZ03062013.pdf

https://www.nds-fluerat.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/HAZ-03062013.pdf

https://www.nds-fluerat.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/HAZ-03062013_Interview.pdf

https://www.nds-fluerat.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/SZ-Artikel-26-07-2012.pdf

The case of Hussein Dauud: Brutal torture after deportation from germany

Hussein Dauud was deported from Germany to Syria in 2000, where he was arrested and tortured on a massive scale; he remained in prison for two years. Among other things, he was accused of taking part in protests against the Syrian government in Germany. After his release, he continues to be harassed by the secret services, forced into military service and banned from leaving the country. It was not until 2010 that he managed to flee to Germany, where he was finally accepted as a refugee.

https://www.nds-fluerat.org/6732/aktuelles/syrischer-fluechtling-hussein-d-abgeschoben-gefoltert-anerkannt/

https://taz.de/Portraet-ueber-den-verfolgten-syrischen-Kurden-Hussein-Dauud/!5104255/

https://www.nds-fluerat.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/BAMF-Bescheid-anonymisiert.pdf

2. Persecution can happen to anyone in Syria

“Whoever is not with me is against me.” That is the regime’s logic. The security services’ criteria of who is to be regarded as an enemy, are numerous and complex and cover a large part of the Syrian population. Even someone who may only possibly be against the regime can be arrested, tortured and killed. Arbitrariness within Syria’s security apparatus is not a bug, it is a feature: No one should feel safe.

Due to the high degree of arbitrariness of the security services and militias loyal to the regime, ultimately no one is safe from persecution. This is especially true for returnees. There are numerous documented cases of returnees who have been arrested and tortured by security services of the regime and some have disappeared in detention.

2.1 Surveillance and targeted persecution

Syria is a full-fledged surveillance state. The intelligence services maintain large informant networks and monitor citizens’ communication. Intelligence agencies and militias loyal to the regime control the streets with fixed and mobile checkpoints and carry out door-to-door checks. The security forces use laptops and barcode scanners to check the IDs of people they find suspicious. Among other things, they check whether the persons being checked are on a wanted list.

“Through the slow decline in hostilities, the influence and access of security agencies and intelligence agencies is also increasing”.

Status Report of the Federal Foreign Office, November 2018, p. 23.

According to the Federal Foreign Office’s report (11/2018), 1.5 million Syrians are officially wanted, while regime sources speak reportedly of 3 million names on the regime’s wanted lists.

Populations from areas formerly controlled by the opposition are under particularly strict surveillance. When communicating with people abroad or in areas beyond the control of the regime, they fear making themselves suspicious. The great fear of repression of people living in the regime’s areas makes it much more difficult to report on human rights violations in these regions.

Syrian secret services also monitor Syrians in Germany. This is clear from several cases in which people who were deported from Germany or who returned to Syria were arrested and tortured for political activities in Germany. (See chapter 2.3)

2.1.1 Sources on surveillance and targeted persecution

Zaman al Wasl: Second Batch of Assad’s Wanted-list Released (3/2018)

https://en.zamanalwsl.net/news/article/33732

PAX: Siege Watch #10 part 1 / Tenth Quarterly Report Part 1 – Eastern Ghouta February–April 2018 (6/2018)

“A number of displaced Siege Watch contacts had spoken to relatives or friends who stayed behind in Eastern Ghouta since the surrender. These calls were risky for the people who stayed, and they were able to have only brief, stilted conversations, because the mere fact that such a phone call occurred might be enough to draw unwanted attention from government intelligence services. These contacts said that their families in Eastern Ghouta were interrogated in their own homes as soldiers looted their belongings. They were asked if they had loved ones who were sent to the north, and if so, what were their names; leaving people afraid of future retribution if their displaced loved ones names were on one of the government’s lists. Interrogation questions have focused intensively on determining the names of people who took photos and videos of the aftermath of chemical attacks launched during the final offensive.”

https://www.paxforpeace.nl/publications/all-publications/siege-watch-10-part-1

Needa: Leaks reveal list prepared by the Syrian regime for 3 million persons inside and outside the country (8/2018)

https://nedaa-sy.com/en/news/7626

Atlantic Council: Breaking Ghouta (9/2018)

“Those who remained behind are under the constant surveillance of the Syrian security state and endure daily humiliations, arrests, forcible recruitment into the armed forces, and restrictions on their freedom of movement.”

http://www.publications.atlanticcouncil.org/breakingghouta/post-reconciliation/

Finish Immigration Service Fakta: Fact-Finding-Mission to Beirut and Damascus, April 2018 (12/2018) S.38

“The Syrian government has lists of people it perceives to be opposing it in one way or another. The authorities could have obtained the names of these people in the beginning of the uprising or during the war or from detained people under duress.270 Also, there can be people who act as informants and provide names for the government. These people go to the government authorities after reconciliation and tell them the identities of the alleged activists or supporters of the AOGs [Armed Opposition Groups]. The Syrian government has a good capacity to monitor telephones and social media. It is possible that through monitoring it can include people on the lists of wanted people.”

https://migri.fi/documents/5202425/5914056/Syria_Fact-finding+mission+to+Beirut+and+Damascus%2C+April+2018.pdf

ACLED: The Risks of Reconciliation (1/2019)

According to ACLED, civilians and former fighters continue to face the thread of arrests and conscription in “reconciled” areas. “The majority of arrests are reported without details of charges; however, when reported, the regime’s clear prioriy is to eliminate remaining structures of resistance, wether civilian or former fighter, and to discourage future rebellion”.

https://www.acleddata.com/2019/01/25/the-risks-of-reconciliation-civilians-and-former-fighters-face-continued-threats-in-syria/

Syria Justice and Accountability Centre (SJAC): Walls Have Ears – An Analysis of Classified Syrian Security Sector Documents (4/2019)

https://syriaaccountability.org/wp-content/uploads/Walls-Have-Ears-English.pdf

European Institute of Peace: Refugee return in Syria: Dangers, Security Risks and Information Scarcity (7/2019)

The report states that due to massive formal and informal surveillance information regarding the situation of returnees is scarce. Many people fear repression as the security sector is re-establishing pervasive control over society. “As Assad consolidates control over larger swathes of territory, less and less information is available. Those living in government-controlled areas have a renewed sense of fear about communicating with friends and family in other parts of Syria or neighbouring countries. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the agency charged with monitoring conditions on the ground, continues to face access and data collection restrictions from the Syrian government.”

Regarding wanted-lists of the regime the report states: “The head of Air Force Intelligence, Jamil Hassan, stated in a private meeting reported by an opposition news outlet last year that there were 3 million names on Syria’s wanted lists, representing 12.5 per cent of the pre-war population. These lists include individuals wanted for mandatory military service. While it is not possible to verify this figure, it is possible to gather information from smaller incidents and announcements to demonstrate that the number is not inconceivable. In March 2018, Zaman Al Wasl published a list of 1.5 million names of people wanted for arrest by the government as of 2015.22 In 2016, a list of 108,123 men wanted for military service in Aleppo city was leaked on the same site. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights published a similar list, for those wanted for arrest in Eastern Ghouta, which included more than 5,000 names.” The report stresses that the lists are not fixed – it is possible that new names appear on the lists while others dissappear.

Returnees are systematically subjected to interrogations: “The security sector is controlling the returns process. The security services are institutionalizing a system of self-incrimination and informing to build large databases of information about real and perceived threats from within the Syrian population. To return from abroad or internally, as well as to reconcile affairs with the state, individuals must fill in extensive forms that defy international practice for refugee returns. The existence and nature of the forms is poorly understood and must be highlighted as a threat to any Syrian choosing (or being pressured) to return.”

“All Syrians returning to the jurisdiction of the state are forced to interact directly with the security sector, completing forms that force them to volunteer information that may incriminate them or their loved ones.” The forms, returning refugees have to fill out include questions for political orientation, the returnees role within the uprising and detained relatives: “State the details of your relatives’ involvement in the current events”. By this means return is been made conditional on a ‘clean record’. “These forms have the effect of creating security through fear: citizens are aware that the government and its most brutal security apparatus, which still has not accounted for roughly 100,000 prisoners, has information about their crimes––both real and perceived.”

“For Syrians living abroad––in neighbouring countries, or Europe––or in areas outside of government control within the country itself, there is presently no pathway to return that does not involve volunteering extensive amounts of information. There are no guarantees in place that this information will not be used against the individual or others in the future.”

“Informing on others has continued and increased both formally and informally, including through returns and reconciliation forms.”
Moe details on reconciliation forms see page 41f.

http://www.eip.org/sites/default/files/EIP%20Report%20-%20Security%20and%20Refugee%20Return%20in%20Syria%20-%20July.pdf

Reporters without Borders: Harassment of pro-government journalists growing in Syria (7/2019)

https://rsf.org/en/news/harassment-pro-government-journalists-growing-syria

Chatham House: Look Beyond the Violence to Understand the Dangers That Remain (8/2019)

“After nearly eight years of bloody warfare in Syria, it is understandable that statistics like the number of causalities are used to measure the impact of the war. However, as the conflict winds down, analysts should be cautious to not focus only on violence when analysing the dangers and challenges facing civilians, especially inside regime areas where fighting has largely ceased.

The regime is using a mixture of judicial regulations mechanisms to punish civilians who are, or were at some point, considered ‘out of order’. Paying more attention to such practices is increasingly important to have a better grasp of the various types of state-sponsored persecution that continue.”

https://syria.chathamhouse.org/research/look-beyond-the-violence-to-understand-the-dangers-that-remain-1

UN: Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (9/2019)

Regarding the so called “reconciliation-efforts” in Daraa after syrian regime retook controll the UN COI states: ” 68. Upon capturing Dar‘a Governorate from armed groups in late July 2018, government forces imposed a “reconciliation” process on civilians who had decided to remain in the area. Specifically, all civilians were required to sign an oath of loyalty, a copy of which the Commission recently obtained. Stipulations included numerous infringements of key human rights, including the right to peaceful assembly. Furthermore, civilians were made to reveal the names of anyone who had elected to be evacuated from the area, as well as the contact details of human rights activists. Throughout the latter half of 2018, a committee went to villages throughout Dar‘a in order to make civilians sign the document, they were only given minutes to read and sign it.”

“69. In connection with the “wanted lists” compiled largely on the basis of the intelligence gathered by government forces in the manner described above, the Commission received accounts of enforced disappearances throughout Dar‘a Governorate, with the majority of victims being humanitarian workers deemed to have “betrayed the country” for documenting attacks by the Government. Multiple interviewees noted that the 4th Armoured Division of the Syrian army was controlling Dar‘a. Describing the general security situation in Dar‘a, interviewees reported that individuals connected with the 2011 uprising were being targeted by the 4th Armoured Division.”

“Several interviewees echoed the pervasive sense of fear among residents in government-held areas, whereby civilians witnessed others being arrested for communicating with their relatives in the north or abroad. In Duma, civilians spoke of being monitored by government forces, noting that their phones were tapped and constantly monitored.”

“73. The overall situation for civilians in Duma, eastern Ghutah (Rif Dimashq), also remains critical. Interviewees described the presence of checkpoints located approximately every 200 metres throughout Duma, erected by government forces to restrict and control the movement of civilians who wish to exit the area. The vast majority of residents require approval to move from Duma to Damascus. In the event residents are granted permission to commute to Damascus, they are required to leave their identification documents with government soldiers at the checkpoints. One man noted that soldiers manning the checkpoints had a computerized system for tracking the movements of civilians who entered and exited Duma.”

https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/CoISyria/A_HRC_42_51.docx

2.2 Arbitrariness of persecution

Persecution by the Assad regime is characterized by a high degree of arbitrariness. Anyone even suspected of being disloyal to the regime can become a victim of persecution—from harassment and attacks at checkpoints, to arbitrary detention, torture, being disappeared, and even death.

The suspicion of being hostile to the regime may be based on the place of origin, a specific neighbourhood, belonging to a denominational or ethnic group or a particular milieu or family, on acquaintances with other suspects, on denunciations by informants or on other factors that in many cases are non-transparent to those affected.

Among other things, the largely unpredictability of persecutory acts is due to the fact that the repressive apparatus is composed of many different actors, some of whom act with great independence and pursue their own interests. Even people who do not consider themselves subjectively as opponents of the regime can therefore become victims of persecution. This applies in particular to returnees.

2.2.1 Sources on arbitrariness of persecution

Status Report of the Federal Foreign Office (Lagebericht des Auswärtigen Amtes) (11/2018)

The status report refers to the practice of clan imprisonment: “[There are] countless documented cases in which individual family members, often women or children, are imprisoned and tortured for activities of other family members that the regime considers hostile. Such clan imprisonment is reportedly also used in some cases when people considered hostile by the regime have sought refuge abroad. Cases are also known where this clan imprisonment is used on mere suspicion of possible rapprochement with the opposition.” (See Lagebericht des Auswärtigen Amtes, November 2018, p.17)

International Protection Considerations with regard to people fleeing the Syrian Arab Republic, Update V (11/2017)

“A particular feature of the conflict in Syria is that different parties to the conflict frequently impute a political opinion to larger groups of people, including families, tribes, religious or ethnic groups, or whole towns, villages or neighbourhoods, by association. In those situations, the risk of being harmed is serious and real, and in no way diminished by the fact that the person concerned may not be targeted on an individual basis.”

https://www.refworld.org/docid/59f365034.html

No clear monopoly on the use of force(Div. Sources)

In addition to the secret services, the repressive apparatus includes numerous militias loyal to the regime, for instance local Syrian militias, Iranian-financed militias, the Lebanese Hezbollah, Iraqi Shiite militias, Russian troops, Russian military police and mercenary companies such as the Russian Wagner Group. Some of the militias are accused of war crimes, looting, kidnapping, smuggling and other criminal activities for their own gain. Many observers diagnose a warlordization or feudalization of Syria and a loss of sovereignty of the state as a result. Therefore, even in the regions held by the Assad regime, a state monopoly on the use of force can only be assumed to a limited extent.

Status Report of the Federal Foreign Office, November 2018 (11/2018) states: “Attacks by non-state actors have increased sharply, mainly attacks by militias loyal to the regime, where the transition between political mandate, military or police tasks and Mafia business practices is fluid.”

Civilians in Syria therefore find themselves exposed to the arbitrariness of different armed regime-loyal members even within the regime-controlled parts of the country. Even though the Assad regime has in the past punished regime-loyal gunmen in individual cases for crimes such as looting, the Syrian state is not in a position to reliably fulfil its responsibility to protect the civilian population.

EASO: COI Meeting 11+12/2017: https://is.gd/EASO_COI_MEETING 

USDOS: Country Report 2017: https://is.gd/USDOS_2017_Syria

Spiegel, 25.01.2019: https://is.gd/8A0vSk

Der Spiegel 8.3.2017: https://is.gd/tDAijR

Business Insider, 18.8.2018: https://is.gd/OVGRzD

Chatham House 7/2017 https://is.gd/eEcxyX

Middle East Institute 13.7.2017: https://is.gd/pcr9Qt

SFH: Zwangsrekrutierung 3/2017, S.3: https://is.gd/AX0DAK

War on the Rocks, 22.11.2017: https://is.gd/0WoMR9

See regarding “Warlordisation” chapter 8.6

Amnesty International: ‘It Breaks the Human’: Torture, Disease and Death in Syria’s Prisons (8/2016)

“Amnesty International’s research since the beginning of the crisis in 2011 indicates that anyone who could be perceived to be opposing the government is at risk of being arbitrarily detained or forcibly disappeared and subjected to torture and other ill-treatment and possibly death in custody. Grounds for arrest on suspicion of opposing the government vary and can include peaceful activism, such as being a human rights defender, journalist or other media worker, providing humanitarian or medical support to civilians in need or having been involved in organizing or attending pro-reform demonstrations. Having a relative who is wanted by the security forces or being “reported” by an informer, including reports that are motivated by financial profit or personal grievances, can also lead to arrest. Majd, an accountant and photographer who spoke to Amnesty International about his experience in detention, explained: “Most people were detained solely because of what informers had said about them. The informer’s report was considered a reality, and you needed to confess to that.”

„Grounds for arrest on suspicion of opposing the government are often extremely flimsy and can include having provided humanitarian support to those displaced by the conflict, or being “reported” to a member of the security forces by an informer.“

https://www.refworld.org/docid/57b8681e4.html

Finish Immigration Service Fakta: Fact-Finding-Mission to Beirut and Damascus, April 2018 (12/2018)

The Finish Immigration Service lists profiles of people typically sought by the Assad regime. The list is preceded that ultimately all people can end up on the regime’s wanted lists: “All in all, ending up being wanted by the government might be based on a wide variety of reasons, all of which are not necessarily listed below. Ending up being wanted can also be completely arbitrary.”

“People can check their status and whether they are wanted or not by the government from the central database that is in use in Syria. If one’s name is not on the list of wanted people, however, it is not a 100 % guarantee that one is not wanted by the government.”

“Many people do not know if they are wanted by the government. The authorities do not notify the person who is being wanted and one can be wanted by the government without knowing it. OHCHR has documented some incidents where individuals were informed that their names did not appear on government wanted lists, but they were detained anyway. Some people have expressed concern that different security services might have their own lists, so information that a person may not appear on a particular list may not be a guarantee that the name doesn’t appear on another services list.”

https://migri.fi/documents/5202425/5914056/Syria_Fact-finding+mission+to+Beirut+and+Damascus%2C+April+2018.pdf

Amnesty International: Gutachten für das VG Magedburg (9/2018)

The report points out that ultimately no one is safe from prosecution due to the arbitrariness of violence comitted by state organs.

https://is.gd/AI_Gutachten_VG_MAgd_Sep18

Amnesty International: Gutachten für das VGH Hessen (9/2018)

“Arbitrary suspicions and general suspicions against certain groups of persons are central components of the practice of Syrian security authorities and must therefore be taken into account in every risk assessment of an individual case.”

https://is.gd/AI_Gutachte_VHG_Hessen_Sep18

Syrians for Truth and Justice: Homs: Children/Students Arrested for Unknown Reasons (3/2019)

https://stj-sy.org/en/1212/

Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (Muriel Asseburg): Perspektiven für Flüchtlinge statt Anreize zur Rückkehr nach Syrien (4/2019)

SWP’s Murial Asseburg stresses the high risks syrians are facing on return.

https://www.swp-berlin.org/kurz-gesagt/2019/perspektiven-fuer-fluechtlinge-statt-anreize-zur-rueckkehr-nach-syrien/

Chatham House: Understanding the characteristics of the new emerging state in Syria (6/2019)

“Unlike the pre-2011 state in Syria, the emerging one, despite the regime’s relatively strong control over it, is no longer one central entity. Therefore, using a classical state lens to understand its dynamics through top-down analysis could be misleading and counterproductive.”

https://syria.chathamhouse.org/research/understanding-the-characteristics-of-the-new-emerging-state-in-syria

Financial Times: Climate of Fear deters Syrian refugees from returning home (7/2019)

“If someone is annoyed with you, they write a report to the intelligence and then you will disappear.”

https://www.ft.com/content/630b11f8-9d9a-11e9-b8ce-8b459ed04726

European Institute of Peace: Refugee return in Syria: Dangers, Security Risks and Information Scarcity (7/2019)

The report stresses war economy as cause for arbitrary acts of militias and security services: “A reduction in the availability of the extractive war economy activities that have kept the Syrian military and security sector afloat throughout the conflict has caused them to turn to alternative means of income generation. Detentions and arrests are being conducted both to gather intelligence and punish those considered disloyal and to extract payments from families for the release of loved ones. Other forms of extortion are also affecting the security of those living in and returning to the country.”

“Without new properties and territories to loot, and with fewer sieges and opportunities to seek regular bribes, the additional cash flow keeping the military and security sectors afloat is drying up. They are now turning to activities such as kidnapping for ransom or seeking regular protection payments from businesses to prevent the regular arrest of their employees or the looting of their properties.”

“Another increasingly common informal revenue stream is the practice of charging of exorbitant amounts for the release of detainees, or pay-for-information schemes in which family members are charged large amounts for information on detained loved ones.”

http://www.eip.org/sites/default/files/EIP%20Report%20-%20Security%20and%20Refugee%20Return%20in%20Syria%20-%20July.pdf

SACD: Vengeance, Prepression and Fear: Reality behind Assad’s promises to displaced Syrians (10/2019)

“Two-thirds of 165 interviewed returnees stated that they live in constant fear of arrest or harassment from the security services and various militias that run a maze of checkpoints—particularly those in or from areas under “reconciliation agreements”. People are arbitrarily stopped, harassed, threatened and arrested by these groups to extort money on the spot or from their families. Militias rely on a network of informants to identify returnees and those who accepted “reconciliation agreements” for targeting. Corruption and extortion by the regime and militias permeate every aspect of life for returnees. Interviewees reported having to pay bribes to carry out the most menial of activities, such as obtaining documents or transporting produce to the market. Almost all industrial and other economic activity in these areas has ceased, so farming is often the sole source of income. The regime is exploiting this situation by enforcing a ban on the transfer of goods and products beyond local areas under “reconciliation agreements”, which forces returnees to sell their produce to the pro-regime monopolists.”

https://www.syacd.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/FinalSACDSecreport.pdf

2.3 Danger to returnees

Numerous sources confirm that returnees are systematically questioned by the intelligence services at the airport, at checkpoints or even after their return. On return, Syrian refugees and asylum seekers face a significant risk of being suspected of rejecting the Assad regime and thus of becoming victims of arbitrary detention, torture and being disappeared.

This applies especially to persons who have made statements critical of the regime abroad because the Syrian regime spies on exile communities—even in Germany. Likewise, conscientious objectors and deserters are massively endangered. Moreover, returnees may also become victims of persecution for reasons that are not transparent to them or due to mere arbitrariness.

2.3.1 Sources on the subject of danger to returnees

Status Report of the Federal Foreign Office (Lagebericht des Auswärtigen Amtes) (11/2018)

The status report of November 2018 deals in several places with the endangerment of returnees:

“Within the security authorities that are particularly close to the regime, but also in parts of the population marked by conflict and extreme polarization, returnees are regarded as cowards and deserters, in the worst case even as traitors or supporters of terrorists.” (p.21).

The report notes that “there are still numerous reports of systematic, politically motivated security screening of all returnees, rejection of many returnees and violations of reconciliation agreements (regarding military conscription, arrest, detention, etc.)”

The Federal Foreign Office is aware of “cases in which returnees to Syria have been questioned, temporarily imprisoned or permanently “disappeared”. Again and again, returnees, especially those who are regarded as oppositional or critical of the regime, are exposed to renewed expulsion, sanctions or repression, up to endangerment of life and limb. This applies in particular to areas under regime control”. (p. 23)

Asyl.net: Information on case law (2/2017)

It is controversial in the case law whether all refugees returning to Syria or deported to Syria are accused by the Assad regime of having an opposition attitude simply because they have left Syria and/or have applied for asylum, and whether they are threatened with persecution as defined by the Geneva Convention, is judged differently by German courts. Information on jurisdiction can be found at Asyl.net.

https://www.asyl.net/view/detail/News/erste-ovg-entscheidungen-zum-schutzstatus-von-asylsuchenden-aus-syrien-veroeffentlicht/

Schweizer Flüchtlingshilfe: Syrien: Rückkehr – Auskunft der SFH-Länderanalyse (3/2017)

Swiss NGO “Schweizer Flüchtlingshilfe” has shown in an evaluation of numerous sources that returnees are systematically questioned by the secret services. “Every returning person is at risk. In principle, it must be assumed that any person returning to Syria can be arrested and ill-treated.”

https://is.gd/SFH_Rueckkehr

Austrian Centre for Country of Origin and Asylum Research and Documentation (ACCORD) (8/2018)

ACCORD underlines that everyone who is suspected to oppose the regime risks torture and enforced dissappearance upon return. Arrests can happen not only at arrival but also long after return.

https://is.gd/ACCORD_Aug18

Die Zeit: Was Rückkehrern in Assads Syrien droht (8/2018)

https://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2018-08/krieg-syrien-rueckkehr-fluechtlinge-wladimir-putin-angela-merkel

Syrian Center for Legal Studies & Researches: Syrian law Manual regarding the return of Syrian refugees in Europe (9/2018)

https://sl-center.org/?p=657&lang=en

Amnesty International: Gutachten für das VGH Hessen (9/2018) 

https://is.gd/AI_Gutachte_VHG_Hessen_Sep18

Weltbank-Studie: The Mobility of Displaced Syrians: An Economic and Social Analysis (2/2019)

“Insecurity in Syria is a major deterrent to return (…).”

https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/syria/publication/the-mobility-of-displaced-syrians-an-economic-and-social-analysis

The Conversation (Mark Ward): Refugees forced to return to Syria face imprisonment, death at the hands of Assad (3/2019)

Mark S. Ward, Director of the US-State-Department “Syria Transition Assistance and Response Team (START)”, which is based out of U.S. Embassy Ankara and is responsible for coordinating all U.S. assistance to Syria from Turkey, writes: “Syria’s security services were always strong. They suspect nearly everyone who left the country of loyalty to the opposition. No one should trust a regime that bombed innocent civilians for years, probably detained more than 200,000 without trial and is reported to have killed its own civilians with chemical weapons.”

http://theconversation.com/refugees-forced-to-return-to-syria-face-imprisonment-death-at-the-hands-of-assad-113159

Washington Post: Assad urged Syrian refugees to come home. Many are being welcomed with arrest and interrogation. (6/2019)

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/assad-urged-syrian-refugees-to-come-home-many-are-being-welcomed-with-arrest-and-interrogation/2019/06/02/54bd696a-7bea-11e9-b1f3-b233fe5811ef_story.html

Financial Times: Climate of Fear deters Syrian refugees from returning home (7/2019)

https://www.ft.com/content/630b11f8-9d9a-11e9-b8ce-8b459ed04726

European Institute of Peace: Refugee return in Syria: Dangers, Security Risks and Information Scarcity (7/2019)

The report shows that the security sector is controlling the returns process. “The security services are institutionalizing a system of self-incrimination and informing to build large databases of information about real and perceived threats from within the Syrian population. To return from abroad or internally, as well as to reconcile affairs with the state, individuals must fill in extensive forms that defy international practice for refugee returns.”

“All Syrians returning to the jurisdiction of the state are forced to interact directly with the security sector, completing forms that force them to volunteer information that may incriminate them or their loved ones. For Syrians living abroad––in neighbouring countries, or Europe––or in areas outside of government control within the country itself, there is presently no pathway to return that does not involve volunteering extensive amounts of information. There are no guarantees in place that this information will not be used against the individual or others in the future.”

“Even among the self-selecting ‘voluntary’ returnees, hundreds of detentions and arrests have been reported—including of refugees from abroad, IDPs from armed opposition areas, and those who have undergone a ‘reconciliation’ in an area retaken by the government. Recent detainees report having experienced brutal torture while in custody; deaths in custody have also been recorded.”

“Particular risk profiles appear to be more susceptible to arrest, such as those who return without seeking security permissions and reconciling before travelling, individuals who worked in sectors or activities believed to be associated with the opposition (journalism, aid work, local councils, rescue workers), men of military age, and those with family members who were forcibly displaced to Idlib or Aleppo. However, arrests are taking place across all demographics, and it cannot be assumed that only those within these groups are at risk of being detained or arrested, now or in the future.”

Regarding current return movements and arrests of returnees the report underlines that “only those who believe themselves to be without issues with the state and free of security threats are currently choosing to return. Even within this group, some are denied permission to return. Therefore, those returning at the present time do not represent a crosssection of Syrian society by any measure. It would be reasonable to expect arrests and detentions within the group to be low or even non-existent, yet this is not the case.”

“The SNHR documented the arrest of at least 312 individuals who returned to Syria from abroad in 2017 and no less than 719 in 2018. Based on the UNHCR returns total for 2018, this represents 1.3 per cent of those spontaneously returning to the country from abroad being arrested or detained. This proportion would equate, for example, to (…) roughly 84,500 of the 6.5 million Syrians currently displaced outside the country, though this number could be expected to increase exponentially if those deemed by the government to be more politically threatening are included.”

The study unterlines that UNHCR has no unhindered access to returnees. “In February 2018, the UNHCR detailed 22 protection thresholds that must be met before large-scale or facilitated returns could begin. None of these thresholds is currently being met nor is there any way in which most of them could be met given the current situation. Underpinning these thresholds is the need to monitor the current conditions, including the security of those who choose to voluntarily return. Presently, no such monitoring is possible.”

http://www.eip.org/sites/default/files/EIP%20Report%20-%20Security%20and%20Refugee%20Return%20in%20Syria%20-%20July.pdf

Chatham House: Look Beyond the Violence to Understand the Dangers That Remain (8/2019)

“After nearly eight years of bloody warfare in Syria, it is understandable that statistics like the number of causalities are used to measure the impact of the war. However, as the conflict winds down, analysts should be cautious to not focus only on violence when analysing the dangers and challenges facing civilians, especially inside regime areas where fighting has largely ceased.

The regime is using a mixture of judicial regulations mechanisms to punish civilians who are, or were at some point, considered ‘out of order’. Paying more attention to such practices is increasingly important to have a better grasp of the various types of state-sponsored persecution that continue.”

https://syria.chathamhouse.org/research/look-beyond-the-violence-to-understand-the-dangers-that-remain-1

SNHR: The Syrian Regime Continues to Pose a Violent Barbaric Threat and Syrian Refugees Should Never Return to Syria (8/2019)

Fadel Abdul Ghany, Chairman of the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), summarizes the conclusions of the report: “No-one can guess what will happen to a refugee who wants to return to Syria. He may be allowed to enter the country. He may be arrested after a period of time without explaining any reason, as is usual for the security services, and may disappear later, and we may get information that he died due to torture. It is impossible to discover whether the refugee is wanted by all security services; this is a very complicated process that requires huge amounts of money. The Syrian state under the current regime has become a mafia authority, and we warn refugees of the risk of returning, and call on all states to respect customary international law and not to forcibly return anyone because that state will bear responsibility for what might happen with them.”

http://sn4hr.org/wp-content/pdf/english/The_Syrian_regime_continues_to_pose_a_severe_barbaric_threat_and_Syrian_refugees_should_never_return_to_Syria_en.pdf

HRW: Syrians Deported by Lebanon Arrested at Home (9/2019)

https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/09/02/syrians-deported-lebanon-arrested-home

COAR: Intermediaries of Return​. 10/2019

The report analyses how mediation of local intermediaries, who function as conduits between individual communities and the Syrian state itself, plays a crucial role for the return of IDPs: “Fundamentally, Syria remains a security state in which military and security agencies exercise significant control over bureaucratic procedures, administrative policies, and personal mobility. As a result, security forces frequently serve as a major obstacle to return, and in many communities returns movements must be negotiated. Often, these negotiations are the de facto remit of local intermediaries — including local notables, religious figures, tribal leaders, businessmen, armed group commanders, and state employees — who serve as critical conduits between individual communities and the Syrian state itself. However, the involvement of an intermediary does not in itself guarantee that return will be possible, nor does it ensure that return movements will be safe, voluntarily, dignified, or sustainable.”

https://coar-global.org/2019/10/07/intermediaries-of-return

SACD: Vengeance, Repression and Fear: Reality behind Assad’s promises to displaced Syrians (10/2019)

The Syrian Association for Dignity interviewed 165 people in Homs, Damascus countryside, Daraa, and Aleppo in conspiratorial circumstances to bypass censorship and document the real security situation of returnees and those living in areas covered by “reconciliation agreements” under the control of the Assad-regime. The report gives a unique insight als UNHCR and other monitoring organisations have no uncensored acces to returnees. The report disproves the narrativ, that refugees and IDPs are free to return to Assad-held-areas, will be safe from persecution and harrasment and are allowed to reclaim their properties and enjoy a peaceful life.

Key findings show that return to Assad-held area is not safe because of arbitrary detentions (which can lead to torture and enforced dissappearance) and enforced conscription (which can quickly lead to death at the front lines). More than 25% of the interviewed had been detained themselves or had a family member arbitrarily arrested by the security services. Some 68 per cent of those interviewed are themselves or have a relative who is wanted for arrest by either the security services or Assad’s military. 66 % stated that they live in constant fear of arrest or harassment from the security services and various militias at checkpoints and other places. Corruption and extortion by the regime and militias permeate every aspect of life for returnees. Most interviewees from areas covered by the regime’s “urban development laws” were affected by the discriminatory laws and decrees governing the destroyed areas stripping returnees from housing, land- and property-rights, many have no acces to basic services.

Arbitrary arrests, forced recruitment, extortion, and the absence of basic services are the main factors driving returnees’ desire to leave their homes again. Nearly 60 percent of the interviewees (and 73 percent of those living in areas the regime seized by force) reported that they would seriously consider leaving if an opportunity presented itself. Out of this number, a third stated they would try to reach Europe, with Turkey, north Syria, and Arab countries identified as other destinations. Returnees overwhelmingly asserted that they regret their decision to return, regardless of the hardship they faced in displacement. 63 percent are actively seeking a way to flee again.

https://www.syacd.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/FinalSACDSecreport.pdf

Siehe zusammenfassend auch: https://www.mei.edu/publications/vengeance-repression-and-fear-reality-behind-assads-promises-displaced-syrians

2.3.2 Publicly documented cases after 2011

Foreign Policy: A Deadly Welcome Awaits Syria’s Returning Refugees (2/2019):

Foreign Policy reports on two cases of returnees from germany who where arrested and have disappeared into Syria’s prison system. At least one of the cases recieved a grant of 1,200 € from german authorities for his voluntary return to Syria.

https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/02/06/a-deadly-welcome-awaits-syrias-returning-refugees/

https://www.asyl.net/view/detail/News/berichte-ueber-verschwinden-syrischer-rueckkehrer

https://www.medico.de/blog/starthilfe-in-den-tod-17309

https://adoptrevolution.org/was-droht-gefluechteten-bei-rueckkehr-nach-syrien/

The National: Lebanon’s refugee affairs minister accuses Syrian forces of killing 20 repatriated refugees (11/2018)

https://www.thenational.ae/world/mena/lebanon-s-refugee-affairs-minister-accuses-syrian-forces-of-killing-20-repatriated-refugees-1.787905

Irish Times: Arrests and torture of Syrian refugees returning home reported (12/2017 und 3/2018)

https://is.gd/OAj2PS

https://is.gd/5164HI

The Case of Majd Kamalmaz (1/2019)

In February 2017, Syrian-American Majd Kamalmaz disappeared during a visit to Damascus after being arrested at a checkpoint. Kamalmaz had previously obtained assurances that he could travel safely to Syria, he was not considered an opponent of the regime.[1]  

https://is.gd/M8d9Zi

https://is.gd/2TPdv5

Syria Direct: ‘To venture into the unknown’: After several years in the diaspora, a defector returns to Syria and then disappears’ (3/2019)

https://syriadirect.org/news/‘to-venture-into-the-unknown’-after-seven-years-in-the-diaspora-a-defector-returns-to-syria-and-then-disappears

Damascus Voice: ‘Young men from Harasta arrested after they came back from Turkey’, (3/2019)

http://damascusv.com/archives/5901

NPR: Thousands Of Refugees Returning To Syria End Up Detained, Imprisoned, Tortured (6/2019)

https://www.npr.org/2019/06/24/735510371/thousands-of-refugees-returning-to-syria-end-up-detained-imprisoned-tortured?t=1561448118502

SNHR: The Syrian Regime Continues to Pose a Violent Barbaric Threat and Syrian Refugees Should Never Return to Syria (8/2019)

In the reporting period from January 2014 to August 2019, the Syrian Human Rights Network (SNHR) documented 1,916 cases of arbitrary detention of persons who returned to Syria from abroad, including 219 minors and 157 women. 1,132 of the detainees were released again, 784 were still imprisoned, 638 of them were victims of “disappearances”. 15 of the detainees died under torture. Eleven of the victims were returnees from Lebanon. SNHR stresses that of the 1,132 people released from prison, some were later re-prisoned and/or forcibly conscripted. Most of those affected had been arrested directly at border crossings by the secret services.

http://sn4hr.org/wp-content/pdf/english/The_Syrian_regime_continues_to_pose_a_severe_barbaric_threat_and_Syrian_refugees_should_never_return_to_Syria_en.pdf

HRW: Syrians Deported by Lebanon Arrested at Home (9/2019)

https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/09/02/syrians-deported-lebanon-arrested-home


2.3.3 Detention of deportees before 2011

In 2008, Germany and the Assad regime concluded a readmission agreement in order to deport Syrians who are obliged to leave the country more effectively. The political background was, among other things, extensive intelligence cooperation between Germany and Syria to combat terrorism and migration.

In the following years until 2011 there were repeated cases in which Syrians deported from Germany were arrested in Syria and partly tortured. (see chapter 1.4 “Torture before 2011”).

Quellen: Ad-Hoc Status Report (Ad-Hoc-Lagebericht) (12/2019) u. a.

The report of the German Foreign Ministry confirmed three cases of imprisonment on 28 December 2009. After deportation, one of the victims was charged with “spreading false news about the Syrian state abroad”. He had taken part in a demonstration in Germany against the German-Syrian readmission agreement and had been identified in Germany by the Syrian secret service./p>

A response by the German Government to a parliamentary inquiry shows that in 2009 and 2010 14 of 73 deported persons were imprisoned in Syria.

https://www.proasyl.de/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Vetrag_mit_Folteren.pdf

http://www.taz.de/!5154617

https://www.asyl.net/rsdb/m18322

http://dipbt.bundestag.de/doc/btd/17/033/1703365.pdf

The Case of Hussein Dauud: Brutal torture after deportation

Hussein Dauud was deported from Germany to Syria in 2000, where he was arrested and tortured on a massive scale; he remained in prison for two years. Among other things, he is accused of taking part in protests against the Syrian government in Germany. After his release, he continues to be harassed by the secret services, forced into military service and banned from leaving the country. It was not until 2010 that he managed to flee to Germany, where he was finally recognised as a refugee.

https://www.nds-fluerat.org/6732/aktuelles/syrischer-fluechtling-hussein-d-abgeschoben-gefoltert-anerkannt/

https://taz.de/Portraet-ueber-den-verfolgten-syrischen-Kurden-Hussein-Dauud/!5104255/

https://www.nds-fluerat.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/BAMF-Bescheid-anonymisiert.pdf

The Case Anuar Naso: Deported as a minor and tortured

Anuar Naso and his father were deported from Germany to Syria in 2011 at the age of 15. There both were imprisoned and abused. After another escape, Anuar Naso strands in Bulgaria, where his father is imprisoned. Only after two years is he allowed to return to his family in Germany.

https://www.nds-fluerat.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/SZ03062013.pdf

https://www.nds-fluerat.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/HAZ-03062013.pdf

https://www.nds-fluerat.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/HAZ-03062013_Interview.pdf

https://www.nds-fluerat.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/SZ-Artikel-26-07-2012.pdf

Tortured after deportation from Germany (2008)

A 24-year-old Syrian, who was expelled in September 2008 and deported to Syria, was subsequently detained and tortured there. After he managed to flee again to Germany, the Administrative Court in Wiesbaden established this fact in a ruling of 13 January 2011 and prohibited further deportation attempts. The court had been appealed in summary proceedings because the Foreigners Authority had threatened the young Syrian to deport him again. The authorities were aware that he had been arrested in Syria after his deportation. On many pages of the verdict, the Administrative Court provided details of the torture suffered and considered the details of the torture to be credible.

http://archiv.proasyl.de/de/presse/presse-archiv/presse-detail/news/syrer_nach_abschiebung_gefoltert

Case of Ismail Abdi (2010-2011): Arrested on departure

After a visit to his family in August 2010, the German-Syrian Ismail Abdi is prevented from leaving the country by Syrian security forces, imprisoned under inhumane conditions and, above all, put under psychological pressure, including repeated threats of torture. The reason is apparently his involvement in a German-Syrian human rights initiative. After his release in March 2011 he is not allowed to leave Syria. He was not able to return to Germany until August 2011.

https://fluechtlingsrat-bw.de/files/Dateien/Dokumente/INFOS%20-%20Publikationen/Rundbrief/2012-3/rb12-3_26-27.pdf

https://www.gfbv.de/de/informieren/kampagnen/abgeschlossene-kampagnen/syrien-ismail-abdi-ist-frei

3. The Assad regime makes tens of thousands of people disappear

Arbitrary detention and the practice of “enforced disappearance” are part of the Syrian repressive apparatus’ standard repertoire. In a large proportion of cases, victims of arbitrary detention are detained for weeks, months or years in official or informal detention centres without their relatives knowing their whereabouts. This practice not only terrorizes those directly affected, but also their family and social environment.

It is estimated that currently 80,000 to 100,000 people have “disappeared.” In many cases, relatives only learn years later that their detained relatives have long since been tortured to death, died in prison, or executed (see Chapter 4). Arbitrary arrests and the practice of enforced disappearance are ongoing.

3.1 Figures on arbitrary detention and disappeared persons

The number of disappeared persons is evident from documentations by Syrian human rights organizations—which, however, are incomplete: Due to the fear of repression, many families are silent about their missing relatives. The Syrian government does not provide reliable information on detained persons.

It is estimated that tens of thousands of people—probably well over one hundred thousand people—were victims of arbitrary detention and/or enforced disappearance in Syria during the conflict and that tens of thousands are still “disappeared”.

Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR)

The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) continuously documents cases of arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances of all warring parties. The Assad regime is respnsible for the majority of arrests and disappearances. At the time of March 2019, it estimates that more than 127,900 people are arbitrarily imprisoned by the regime or are victims of disappearances by the Assad regime. As of August 2019, SNHR estimates that 83,574 people have “disappeared” into prisons of the regime.

SNHR publishes monthly reports on arbitrary arrests and disappearances. These show that the practice of arbitrary arrests and disappearances continues in 2019:

http://sn4hr.org/blog/category/report/monthly-reports/detainees-and-enforced-disappearances-monthly-reports/

Amnesty International

Amnesty International estimated in July 2018 that at least 82,000 people had been victims of “disappearances” since the beginning of the conflict in Syria.

https://www.ecoi.net/de/dokument/1439569.html

Violations Documentation Center

In May 2019, the Violations Documentation Center database contained 66,900 names of persons reported as having been detained by relatives and 2800 names of persons reported missing.

http://www.vdc-sy.info/index.php/en/detainees

http://www.vdc-sy.info/index.php/en/missing/

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights: Amid continued international silence and Russia’s false guarantees, the Syrian regime arrests more than 3600 people since April 2018, amid unknown fate and fears for their lives (6/2019)

The report assumes that between April and June 3600 people were victims of arbitrary detention and disappearances by the Assad regime. 1200 people were released after interrogation, 2400 were still in prison.

http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=130225

SNHR: At least 2,460 Cases of Arbitrary Arrests Documented in Syria in the First Half of 2019 (7/2019)

http://sn4hr.org/wp-content/pdf/english/At_least_2460_Cases_of_Arbitrary_Arrests_Documented_in_Syria_in_the_First_Half_of_2019_en.pdf

European Institute of Peace: Refugee return in Syria: Dangers, Security Risks and Information Scarcity (7/2019)

“Despite imperfect information, it can be concluded that between 80,000 and 250,000 people are currently detained in Syria’s prisons. This represents 0.33–0.81 per cent of the pre-war population, or 1 in every 1,200 people. Countless others have passed through the prison network during the conflict.”

http://www.eip.org/sites/default/files/EIP%20Report%20-%20Security%20and%20Refugee%20Return%20in%20Syria%20-%20July.pdf

SNHR: At least 589 Cases of Arbitrary Arrests Documented in Syria in July 2019 (8/2019)

Of the 589 cases, 296 individuals, including 16 children and eight women, were arrested by regime or regime-loyal forces. 213 of these 296 cases were categorized as “disappearances” by SNHR. According to SNHR, 227 of the 598 cases of arbitrary arrest or enforced disappearance are the responsibility of PYD or SDF/YPG.

http://sn4hr.org/wp-content/pdf/english/At_least_589_cases_of_arbitrary_arrests_in_Syria_in_July_2019_en.pdf

3.2 Sources on arbitrary detention and disappeared persons

Status Report of the Federal Foreign Office (Lagebericht des Auswärtigen Amtes) (11/2018)

According to the status report, “countless cases” of arbitrary arrest, detention without trial, and enforced disappearances have been documented since the beginning of the uprising in March 2011. (p.8). Arbitrary arrests were made by police, secret services and state-organised militias. “In view cases, the arrested persons are transferred by the secret services to a regular prison and the judiciary after some time. From this point on, family members and lawyers usually have access to the persons concerned,” the report says. In “many other cases”, however, the persons “disappeared”. Since March 2011, in a number of documented cases, the security services involved have only handed over the body of the arrested person to the relatives. (p.9)

HRW: Torture Archipelago – Arbitrary Arrests, Torture, and Enforced Disappearances in Syria’s Underground Prisons since March 2011 (7/2012)

https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/syria0712webwcover_0.pdf

UN Human Rights Council: “Without a trace – enforced disappearances in Syria” (12/2013)

„Investigations uncovered a consistent country-wide pattern in which people – mainly adult males – have been seized by the Syrian security and armed forces, as well as by pro-Government militias, during mass arrests, house searches, at checkpoints and in hospitals. In some instances, the disappearances appeared to have a punitive element, targeting family members of defectors, activists, fighters as well as those believed to be providing medical care to the opposition.“

https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/CoISyria/ThematicPaperEDInSyria.pdf

Amnesty International Report 2017/18

https://is.gd/AI_JB1718

UN Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (1/2019)

“Civilians in areas recently retaken by pro-government forces similarly suffered from a general absence of the rule of law, including in eastern Ghouta (Rif Dimashq) and Dar’a. As with areas under the control of armed groups and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham terrorists, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance were perpetrated with impunity. Detentions were used by government forces as a form of both retaliation and intelligence gathering.”

“Upon securing control over Duma (Rif Dimashq), Dar’a and northern Homs government forces engendered a climate of fear through a campaign of arbitrary arrests and detention. Indeed, while arbitrary detention throughout the Syrian Arab Republic continues to be perpetrated by all parties on the ground, the phenomenon has been most pervasive since 2011 in areas under government influence. During the reporting period, activists, civil defence volunteers, conscript deserters, recent returnees and others generally perceived to be opposition supporters were the most likely to be detained arbitrarily. Women with familial ties to opposition fighters or defectors were similarly detained for intelligence-gathering purposes or retribution.”

http://undocs.org/en/A/HRC/40/70

Syrians for Truth and Justice: At Least, 40 Civilians Arrested Recently in Hama (1/2019)

https://stj-sy.org/en/1156/

Amnesty International: Human Rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Review of 2018 (2/2019)

“Syrian security forces held thousands of detainees without trial, often in conditions that amounted to enforced disappearance. Tens of thousands of people remained disappeared, the majority since 2011. They included peaceful activists, humanitarian workers, lawyers, journalists, peaceful critics and government opponents as well as individuals detained in place of relatives wanted by the authorities.”

https://www.ecoi.net/en/file/local/2003684/MDE2499032019ENGLISH.pdf

SADC: Displaced Syrians forced to return to Assad-held areas from Rukban describe detention, torture, death in “IDP shelters” (4/2019)

Report on the fate of people from the defacto besieged Rukban camp, who left the camp to regime controlled areas where they were held in so called “shelters”.

https://medium.com/@SACD/displaced-syrians-forced-to-return-to-assad-held-areas-from-rukban-tell-their-stories-b4b76f9ffe58

Amnesty, HRW and others: “Syria: Tell Families of Missing the Fate of Loved Ones” (5/2019) 

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/05/syria-tell-families-of-missing-the-fate-of-loved-ones/

HRW: Syria: Detention, Harassment in Retaken Areas (5/2019)

https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/05/21/syria-detention-harassment-retaken-areas

European Institute of Peace: Refugee return in Syria: Dangers, Security Risks and Information Scarcity (7/2019)

The report stresses that arbitrary detention, enforced dissapearance and torture are ongoing. “Ongoing arrests and detentions add to the large numbers of detainees and disappeared that have been mounting throughout the conflict. They risk the same torture, unfair trials, and executions as those who have been detained or killed since 2011. As such, the issue of detentions and disappeared must be treated as an ongoing and open issue, which is being compounded by the day, rather than a historical injustice to be tackled through longer-term accountability efforts.”

“Despite imperfect information, it can be concluded that between 80,000 and 250,000 people are currently detained in Syria’s prisons. This represents 0.33–0.81 per cent of the pre-war population, or 1 in every 1,200 people. Countless others have passed through the prison network during the conflict.”

http://www.eip.org/sites/default/files/EIP%20Report%20-%20Security%20and%20Refugee%20Return%20in%20Syria%20-%20July.pdf

SACD: Choice facing people of Rukban: starve or head to Assad’s detention centers (8/2019)

Report on the fate of people from the defacto besieged Rukban camp, who left the camp to regime controlled areas where they were held in so called “shelters”.

https://medium.com/@SACD/choice-facing-people-of-rukban-starve-or-head-to-assads-detention-centers-dd26c5673bb0

Syrians for Truth and Justice: “They Coerced Us into Saying that We Are ISIS Wives” (8/2019)

https://stj-sy.org/en/1232/

Syrian Observer / Brocar Press: Mass Arrests of Young Men in Zabadani (9/2019)

https://syrianobserver.com/EN/news/53074/mass-arrests-of-young-men-in-zabadani.html

UN: Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (9/2019)

“In government-controlled areas, civilians, including recent returnees, have been arbitrarily arrested and detained, harassed, mistreated and tortured.”

“For example, citizens are prone to abduction for ransom or for political gain, extortion and acts of retribution. Those who have lost their properties or their livelihoods have little recourse to justice, while those in detention risk ill-treatment and, in some instances, execution.”

https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/CoISyria/A_HRC_42_51.docx

SACD: Vengeance, Repression and Fear: Reality behind Assad’s promises to displaced Syrians (10/2019)

The report by SACD on the situation of returnees states: More than a quarter of the 165 returnees interviewed by SACD had been detained themselves or had a family member arbitrarily arrested by the security services. Of those respondents, 75 per cent had been arrested within the last 18 months. More than 70 per cent of those arrested had to pay a bribe to be released. Beatings and torture are common practices in detention. Several interviewees’ relatives were taken to unknown lo-cations, after which they were never heard from again.

https://www.syacd.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/FinalSACDSecreport.pdf

4. The regime commits mass murder of detainees

Numerous sources evidence that tens of thousands of people have been killed by executions, torture, denied medical aid and food and water deprivation in the detention centres of the Syrian government since 2011. It can be assumed that these killings continue to this day.

“Prisoners are crammed into confined spaces, bodies are sometimes cleared away only days later, medical care is scarce, and hygienic conditions are terrible”

Status Report of the Federal Foreign Office, 11/2018, p. 18
4.1 Quellen zu Tötungen in Haft

Caesar-Files

In August 2013, a military photographer with the alias “Caesar” smuggled 53,275 photos from Syria. The photos are considered one of the most important evidence of the mass killings of prisoners in the regime’s prisons. As a military photographer, “Ceasar” has had the task since 2011 of documenting the bodies of people who died or were killed in prison or after their transfer from a prison in a military hospital. The pictures show at least 6,700 killed prisoners. Most of the bodies show traces of severe malnutrition, brutal beatings, strangulation and other methods of torture and killing. The images were examined by the UN, HRW and other organisations. Apparently, the aim of the photo documentation was to document the execution of orders. They document systematic torture and systematic killings allegedly commissioned by the Syrian government.

Siehe UN Ceasar Letter 4/2014: https://is.gd/z2ekOF 

HRW 12/2015: https://is.gd/pwS9rJ

ECCHR 9/2017: https://is.gd/iV3zNn

Status Report of the Federal Foreign Office (Lagebericht des Auswärtigen Amtes) (11/2018)

According to the report of the Federal Foreign Office, “countless cases” of “torture and killing in custody” as well as assassinations are documented. (p.8) The report confirms that in many cases relatives receive only the bodies of the detainees.

UN—Commission of Inquiry on Syria : Out of Sight, Out of Mind – Deaths in Detention in the Syrian Arab Republic (2/2016)

„Detainees held by the Government were beaten to death, or died as a result of injuries sustained due to torture. Others perished as a consequence of inhuman living conditions. The Government has committed the crimes against humanity of extermination, murder, rape or other forms of sexual violence, torture, imprisonment, enforced disappearance and other inhuman acts.“

„[…] it is apparent that the Government authorities administering prisons and detention centres were aware that deaths on a massive scale were occurring. The accumulated custodial deaths were brought about by inflicting life conditions in a calculated awareness that such conditions would cause mass deaths of detainees in the ordinary course of events, and occurred in the pursuance of a State policy to attack a civilian population. There are reasonable grounds to believe that the conduct described amounts to extermination as a crime against humanity.“ 

„The acts were committed in pursuance of a policy to target civilians broadly perceived as associated with the opposition, evidenced by the systematic occurrence of crimes across geographic areas. The existence of a State policy is further demonstrated by the fact that significant State resources were employed in the commission of the crimes and the way in which numerous State institutions throughout the country actively participated and coordinated operations at various levels of the sequential conduct, during which custodial deaths and other crimes occurred. […]The role of State institutions, namely the intelligence agencies and armed forces, and their leadership in actively executing mass arrests, transfers of detainees, their ill treatment and torture, and subsequent issuance of death certificates to misrepresent the circumstances of death in an effort to conceal detainee abuse, demonstrate the existence of State policy and commonality of criminal purpose.“

https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/A-HRC-31-CRP1_en.pdf

Amnesty International und Forensic Architecture: Inside Saydnaya: Syria’s Torture Prison (8/2016)

https://saydnaya.amnesty.org

Amnesty International: “Human Slaughterhouse” (2/2017)

In the report “Human Slaughterhouse – Mass Hangings and Extermination at Saydnaya Prison”, Amnesty International estimates that between 5,000 and 13,000 people were executed in Saydnaya Prison between September 2011 and December 2015, based on testimony from prison staff and detainees. Based on data analysis, the Human Rights Data Analysis Group estimates that at least 17,723 people were killed in Syrian prisons between March 2011 and September 2015. That is an average of around 300 deaths per month. According to Amnesty International, there is no evidence that the killings have ended.

https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/MDE2454152017ENGLISH.PDF

NYT: Syrian Crematory Is Hiding Mass Killings of Prisoners, U.S. Says (5/2017)

The US government reported that there was a crematorium in the Sednaya prison complex for burning the bodies of prisoners. It is based on interpretations of satellite images. (The situation report of the German Foreign Ministry of November 2018 also mentions similar presumptions of another source).

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/15/world/middleeast/syria-assad-prison-crematory.html

NBC News: State Department: Assad’s Regime Built Crematorium to Burn Bodies of Executed Prisoners (5/2017)

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/state-department-assad-s-regime-built-crematorium-burn-bodies-executed-n759616

SNHR: Out of Sight (6/2018)

The Syrian Network for Human Rights counts in its report “Out of Sight” for the period March 2011 to June 2018, 13,197 people who were tortured to death, including 167 children and 59 women. Security forces or allies of the regime were responsible for 99 percent of the victims. The report assumes that a total of 121,829 individuals have been arbitrarily detained since March 2011, some without contact with the outside world. The regime is responsible for 87 percent of the cases.

http://sn4hr.org/wp-content/pdf/english/Out_of_sight_en.pdf

SOHR: The regime breaks the Russian promises and sentences 11 prisoners of Hama Central Prison to death on charges related to “demonstrating against the regime” (11/2018)

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also documented more than 140000 detainees, of who are still in prisons and jails of the Syrian regime, and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights documented the death of 16063 civilians, they are: 15874 men and young men, 125 children under the age of eighteen, and 64 woman over the age of eighteen out of 60000 detainees at least, all of them have been killed inside these branches and in Sednaya prison in more than 7 years, either as a result of direct physical torture or deprivation of food and medicine.

http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=106302

Washington Post: Syria’s once- teeming prison cells being emptied by mass murder (12/2018)

The Washington Post reported on 23.12.2018 that numerous death sentences were handed down and executed in Sednaya prison in order to reduce the number of political prisoners imprisoned there under inhuman conditions. The report also supports the testimony of several survivors released from Sednaya, as well as satellite images of suspected mass graves and bodies apparently lying in the prison yard.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/world/syria-bodies/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.02bc9936d112

Documenting the Death of 976 Individuals due to Torture in Syria in 2018 (1/2019)

According to SNHR, a total of 976 people died under torture in 2018, 951 of them by the Assad regime, including 11 children and two women. There are many indications that the practice of disappearance, torture and killings continues.

http://sn4hr.org/blog/2019/01/02/52975/

NYT: (Anne Banard) Inside Syria’s Secret Torture Prisons: How Bashar al-Assad crushed Dissent (5/2019)

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/11/world/middleeast/syria-torture-prisons.html

The Nation: How One Man Survived Syria’s Gulag (5/2019)

https://www.thenation.com/article/how-one-man-survived-syrias-gulag/

The Syrian Observer / AL Modon: Hezbollah Arrests Them, and the Regime Executes Them (8/2019)

https://syrianobserver.com/EN/news/52083/hezbollah-arrests-them-and-the-regime-executes-them.html

SNHR: Documentation of 72 Torture Methods / Identification of 801 Ceasar Victims (10/2019)

The report documents torture methods in syrian prisons and also reveals that SNHR has recently confirmed the identities of 29 more of the individuals who appeared in the Caesar photographs smuggled out of military hospitals, noting that the previous reports issued by the SNHR had identified 772 of these victims. The latest cases mean that, between March 2015 and September 2019, the SNHR has managed to positively identify a total of at least 801 of the victims shown in the Caesar photographs, including two children and 10 women, after receiving approximately 6,189 of the photographs smuggled out by Caesar.

http://sn4hr.org/blog/2019/10/21/54362/

4.2 Spate of death notifications from 2018

Already in January 2018, but especially in May and June 2018, the Syrian government updated the civil registers with intelligence data, declaring hundreds of disappeared persons dead. As a result, families who had often been searching for their relatives for a long time without any news of their whereabouts suddenly received information that their abducted relatives were dead. Many were killed years ago, often relatively soon after their arrest. When death certificates were issued, they usually referred to natural causes of death such as “heart failure.”

Syrians for Truth and Justice: Seeking Truth for Syria’s Disappeared (7/2018)

https://syriaaccountability.org/updates/2018/07/25/seeking-truth-for-syrias-disappeared/

Washington Post: Death notices for Syrian prisoners are suddenly piling up. It’s a sign Assad has won the war. (7/2018)

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/death-notices-for-syrian-prisoners-are-suddenly-piling-up-its-a-sign-assads-won-the-war/2018/07/25/43ee2154-8930-11e8-8b20-60521f27434e_story.html

HRW, Amnesty International a.o.: To the Astana Working Group on Detentions and Abductions in the Syrian Conflict (8/2018)

https://www.ecoi.net/en/file/local/1442269/1226_1535979215_mde2490242018english.PDF

UN OHCHR: Report of the Secretary-General (9/2018) S.5 Pt. 19

https://www.ecoi.net/en/file/local/1444197/1226_1537959201_n1828671.pdf

UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (9/2018) S. 18 Pt. 99

https://www.ecoi.net/en/file/local/1443546/1930_1537263792_g1824615.pdf

Center on International Cooperation (NYU): Tackling the Impunity Gap in Syria – Detainees and Disappearances (9/2018)

https://cic.nyu.edu/sites/default/files/megally_tackling_the_impunity_gap_in_syria_detainees_and_disappearances_final_sept_12_2018.pdf

UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (IIIM): Death Notifications in the Syrian Arab Republic (11/2018)

https://adoptrevolution.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/INDEPENDENT-INTERNATIONAL-COMMISSION-OF-INQUIRY-ON-THE-SYRIAN-ARAB-REPUBLIC-27-NOVEMBER-2018-Death-Notifications-Syrian-Arab-Republic.pdf

UN Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (1/2019)

“The Commission recalls that the scope and scale of arbitrary arrests and detention used by government forces as a tool of repression have led to the custodial deaths of thousands of Syrian civilians. In an unprecedented development, during the period under review, State entities provided government civil registry offices with information that thousands to tens of thousands of previously detained individuals were deceased. Civil registry offices in Hama, Ladhiqiyah, Hasakah and Damascus Governorates updated their civil status records accordingly to reflect the deaths. Most interviewees explained that the records they received at civil registry offices concerning their fathers, sons, brothers or spouses referred to natural causes of death, such as “heart attack” or “stroke”. Other detainees who perished shared common death dates, possibly indicating group executions. Families who did not obtain a death certificate were unable to move forward on related legal issues, including inheritance.”

http://undocs.org/en/A/HRC/40/70

HRW: World Report 2019 – Syria (1/2019)

“In July, the Syrian government updated civil registries to include death certificates for hundreds of individuals previously detained or disappeared by the government. The updates provided no specific details other than date and, occasionally, cause of death, and the government failed to provide the remains to the families. Meanwhile, the Syrian government continues to detain and mistreat individuals in areas under its control.”

https://www.ecoi.net/de/dokument/2002172.html

Amnesty International: Human Rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Review of 2018 (2/2019)

“In May, the government disclosed the death of some of the disappeared by updating civil status records. For example, the relatives of brothers Yehya and Maen Sherbaji, who had received no information about their whereabouts or fate since they were forcibly disappeared in 2012, found out they were dead when the authorities updated the civil status records. In such cases, the authorities failed to provide the families with remains or information about the circumstances of the enforced disappearance and death.”

https://www.ecoi.net/en/file/local/2003684/MDE2499032019ENGLISH.pdf

Syrians for Truth and Justice: At least 700 death certificates delivered to the civil registry directorates in the province of Hama alone in early 2019 (6/2019)

https://stj-sy.org/en/new-notifications-declare-dead-hundreds-in-syrian-security-services-detention-facilities/

European Institute of Peace: Refugee return in Syria: Dangers, Security Risks and Information Scarcity (7/2019)

Following the opening of a ‘detainees file’ as part of the Astana peace process in the spring of 2018, the Syrian government began to update the records at civil registry offices, changing the status of detainees to ‘dead’. The cause of death in these cases is almost always listed as due to natural causes, such as ‘heart attack’ or ‘stroke’. The SNHR documented 161 cases between May and August 2018 of family members being presented with death certificates for their disappeared relatives. Since then, hundreds of records have been updated in civil registry offices in the Damascus countryside, Hama, Homs, Latakia, Hassakeh and Aleppo, and the practice continues. These records list dates of death and are sometimes accompanied by the signatures of workers in government hospitals. In other cases, the deceased were reportedly executed on the orders of a field court. Some individuals from the same geographic area, such as Daraya or Moudamya al-Sham, share common death dates, indicating that group executions may have taken place.” …

http://www.eip.org/sites/default/files/EIP%20Report%20-%20Security%20and%20Refugee%20Return%20in%20Syria%20-%20July.pdf

The Syrian Observer / AL Modon: Hezbollah Arrests Them, and the Regime Executes Them (8/2019)

“A source in eastern Qalamoun told Al-Modon that families of one of the prisoners in Saydnaya a defected soldier had received from the civil registry department in the town of al-Qutayfah in eastern Qalamoun a notification of the death of their son in the prison without clarifying the cause of death or handing over his body. The prisoner’s family tried to pay money through intermediaries to secure the hand over a body, but the regime refused, and then instructed them to hold a limited funeral for him.”

https://syrianobserver.com/EN/news/52083/hezbollah-arrests-them-and-the-regime-executes-them.html

5. Almost all men face with forced conscription

Syrian men of almost any age face forced conscription by the Syrian army or militias loyal to the regime. Anyone who defies military service or has deserted faces arbitrary punishment, such as torture, immediate deployment to the front, imprisonment or execution.

Recruits face being forced to participate in war crimes. Attacks on the civilian population are part of the Assad regime’s military strategy. Therefore, Syrian deserters and conscripts are not violating their “civic duties” — they refuse to serve in armed units that commit the most serious war crimes and crimes against humanity.

5.1 More information on forced conscription

A large part of Syria’s male population is either fleeing or hiding to escape forced conscription by the Assad regime. Officially, men between the ages of 18 and 42 are eligible to be conscripted. However, due to the arbitrariness of the regime, younger or older men may be drafted into the army or into militias. Since 2011, the military service is virtually permanent; almost no one is officially dismissed from the army.

The Syrian intelligence services, the army, and militias loyal to the regime look for conscientious objectors and deserters at checkpoints and in raids. If conscientious objectors or deserters are found, they face forced recruitment and arbitrary punishments ranging from imprisonment to torture and even execution. There are also reports that conscientious objectors were sent directly to the fronts without military training. Relatives of conscientious objectors and deserters face being detained and tortured instead.

The Assad regime has repeatedly issued amnesties to motivate conscientious objectors and deserters to volunteer. However, these amnesties remain largely ineffective — among other things, because, due to the arbitrariness of the Syrian repressive apparatus, there is no guarantee that those affected will actually remain unpunished. Draft evasion or desertion can be seen as an indicator of disloyalty, so that those affected may, despite amnesty, face persecution—with all potentially fatal consequences.

The Syrian army and the militias loyal to the regime are systematically committing severe war crimes and crimes against humanity (see Chapter 9). It is imperative to view Syrian’s draft evasion and desertion in this context: Those who try to escape Syrian military service do not just violate their “normal” civic duties, but are refusing to participate in war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Syrian draft evaders and deserters have earned recognition for not participating in the crimes committed by the Assad regime, and they urgently need protection. Against the background of German history, this should be self-evident in this country.

5.2 Sources on forced conscription

Status Report of the Federal Foreign Office (Lagebericht des Auswärtigen Amtes) (11/2018)

According to the situation report, there are “numerous credible reports that conscripts who do not respond to the draft notice are picked up and forcibly recruited by intelligence officials. Young men are also abducted and forcibly recruited at checkpoints.” (p.24) Men of conscript age would be given the choice to fight in the front line or to join the “National Defense Forces (NDF), which is notorious for looting and human rights abuses.”

According to the situation report, Syrian army members are shot, tortured, beaten and imprisoned if they do not obey orders; new recruits from former opposition areas are said to have been sent directly to the front line in the past.

The situation report refers to Presidential Decree No. 18/2018, which grants Syrian deserters and draft dodgers at home and abroad impunity. The amnesty must be viewed with great scepticism, as the situation report signals. Criminals” and persons who fought on the side of the armed opposition are excluded from the amnesty. Against the background of the arbitrariness of the regime, many people have no confidence in the effectiveness of the amnesty. According to the situation report: “Similar laws had already been passed before, but their implementation has so far been ineffective. (p.12) Moreover, the amnesty only protects against criminal prosecution, not against entry into the Syrian army.”

/p>

The status report adds: “In view of the abuse of anti-terrorist laws for political repression, it can be assumed that they will also be applied to returning conscripts. For example, arrests of and charges against returnees under anti-terror legislation are regularly reported if these are accused to be opponents of the regime. These reports appear credible but cannot be verified on a case-by-case basis.”(p.12)

Schweizer Flüchtlingshilfe (SFH): Syrien: Zwangsrekrutierung, Wehrdienstentzug, Desertion – Auskunft der SFH-Länderanalyse (3/2017)

https://www.fluechtlingshilfe.ch/assets/herkunftslaender/mittlerer-osten-zentralasien/syrien/170323-syr-militaerdienst.pdf

Landinfo (Norwegian Country of Origin Information Centre): Syria: Reactions against deserters and draft evaders (1/2018) 

https://www.cgra.be/sites/default/files/rapporten/landinfo_report_syria._reactions_against_deserters_and_draft_evaders.pdf

European Asylum Support Office (EASO) COI Meeting Report / Syria 30 November & 1 December 2017 Valletta, Malta (3/2018)

Siehe insbesondere S.20 und S.39: 

https://www.ecoi.net/en/file/local/1427709/1226_1522073171_syria-coi-meeting-report-nov-dec-2017-published-march-2018.pdf

Syrian Center for Legal Studies & Researches: Syrian law Manual regarding the return of Syrian refugees in Europe (9/2018)

https://sl-center.org/?p=657&lang=en

Finish Immigration Service Fakta: Fact-Finding-Mission to Beirut and Damascus, April 2018 (12/2018) S.6

The report traces the recruiting practices of the Syrian army and the various units loyal to the regime and the options for conscripts from these practices using several sources. According to the report, Syrian government forces also consider boys aged 15 or 16 as “fit to fight” within the framework of reconciliations, and men aged 55 as “fit to fight”, and they then bring them into the recruitment process. However, forced recruitment of minors by the Syrian army is not reported, but voluntary recruitment of minors by militia loyal to the regime.

Conscripts are often faced with the choice of joining regime-loyal (local) militias or being recruited into the regular army. Those who “voluntarily” join local militias may hope not to be deployed in contested areas. According to the report, however, there is no reliable protection against being deployed in dangerous regions. The options available to conscripts depend on the region, minority affiliation and many other factors. This also applies to the opportunities to buy oneself out of military service through bribes or to maintain privileges within military service through bribery.

There are reports of forced-recruiting in connection with imprisonment, especially against IDPs and men in areas reconquered by the regime. Recruits from such areas are threatened with being sent to the front without training, forced into death squads or killed immediately: “Basically these people are being sent to the front lines to be killed.”

https://migri.fi/documents/5202425/5914056/Syria_Fact-finding+mission+to+Beirut+and+Damascus%2C+April+2018.pdf

Atlantic Council: Forced conscription continues despite amnesty by Syrian Government (2/2019)

https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/syriasource/forced-conscription-continues-despite-amnesty-by-syrian-government

European Institute of Peace: Refugee return in Syria: Dangers, Security Risks and Information Scarcity (7/2019)

“In October 2018, an amnesty was announced that removed the penalties for those who failed to undertake military service—but did not provide amnesty from the service itself. The amnesty had to be taken up within 4 months if residing within the country, or 6 months if residing outside it. Very few people took up the offer during the months it applied, and its framing as a concession on the part of the government overstates its impact. Instead, thousands of young men have been detained and investigated before being forced into military service across the country in recent months.”

http://www.eip.org/sites/default/files/EIP%20Report%20-%20Security%20and%20Refugee%20Return%20in%20Syria%20-%20July.pdf

Syrians for Truth and Justice: Thousands Forced to Flee Qunaitra and Daraa ‘Silently’ (8/2019)

Forced conscription, dire living conditions, deteriorating security and the expiry of the settlement agreement are contributing to the increase of displacements from the south to northern Syria. At the very least, 10 to 20 people are leaving Daraa and Qunaitra daily, due to the deterioration of the security and living situations, to begin a rough displacement/emigration journey, during which they are subjected to racketeering and exploitation. In many ways, they are asked to pay large amounts, sometimes in excess of $3000, or otherwise handed over to Syrian authorities by Syrian army officers who take advantage of these illicit smuggling networks.

https://stj-sy.org/en/syria-thousands-forced-to-flee-qunaitra-and-daraa-silently/

SJAC: Syria’s Newest Decree: Amnesty or a Political Stunt? (9/2019)

The amnesty issued in September called Decree 20/2019 “reduces sentences for certain crimes and pardons those who have not fulfilled their military service if they return and enlist for duty within outlined timeframes. However, a close read of the text, as well as an overview of the implementation of past such decrees shows that Decree 20/2019 is largely a political stunt, and unlikely to address the thousands of Syrians who are wrongfully detained or fearful to return due to their lack of military service.”

https://syriaaccountability.org/updates/2019/09/26/syrias-newest-decree-amnesty-or-a-political-stunt/

COAR: Assad Issues ‘General Amnesty’, Deferring Military Service And Reducing Sentences (9/2019)

“… the most consequential provisions of the order (Decree 20/2019) concern Syria’s mandatory military service requirement. The decree grants a three-month deferment of compulsory military service to Syrians who reside inside Syria, and a six-month deferment to those who are wanted for service but reside outside the country. As such, the decree is almost certainly intended in large part to meet the Syrian Government’s deep need for military conscripts. Indeed, the last amnesty issued by the Government, in October 2018, contained similar provisions to defer the service requirement for those wanted for service by four and six months, respectively. Then, as now, the Government’s proximate conflict goal is recapturing the portions of northwest Syria that remain under the control of armed opposition groups. To that end, since the Government launched its offensive on Idleb in spring 2019, its advances across key communities on the edges of Hama Governorate have been slow, and Government forces have sustained high levels of casualties.”

SACD: Vengeance, Repression and Fear: Reality behind Assad’s promises to displaced Syrians (10/2019)

Forced conscription6 into Assad’s forces is rampant, especially in areas integrated under “reconciliation agreements”, where up to 75 per cent of those interviewed or their family members were wanted for recruitment. Conscripted fighters are almost inevitably sent to the most dangerous frontlines; many, especially young men, have been killed either in battle or in murky circumstances. Many of those wanted by the security branches for being perceived as “anti-Assad” are forced into the military and sent to the frontlines straight from detention and are never seen again.

In effect, the regime is executing “anti-regime elements” and former opposition fighters who “reconciled” in a way that shields it from international investigation. Thus, forced conscription is being used as a substitute for the widespread use of torture and death in the regime’s prisons, which have been extensively documented by human rights groups12.

https://www.syacd.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/FinalSACDSecreport.pdf

6. “Reconciliation” means submission to arbitrary rule

With “reconciliation agreements” and amnesties, the Assad regime wants to give the impression that it shows leniency towards its militarily defeated opponents in order to restore social peace. But neither amnesties nor reconciliation agreements offer protection against persecution. On the contrary, the goal of “reconciliation” in line with the government is the forced control and subjugation of citizens under its arbitrary regime.

The fact that the Assad regime has little desire to reintegrate refugees into society is also illustrated by a series of measures that challenge refugees’ property rights and prevent them from returning to their hometowns. The regime’s reconstruction plans do not serve the needs of the refugees, but the regime’s nepotism.

6.1 Reconciliation agreements and amnesties

During the process of recapturing the territories held by opposition militias, the regime or its Russian envoys often negotiated local agreements with local militias or community representatives. These capitulation agreements differ greatly from region to region. Typically, they envisaged that armed people and their families, as well as civilians who did not want to fall into the hands of the regime, would be able to flee north on buses.

Often, the agreements also provided that the population remaining in the city or region would initially be spared forced conscription and other repressions. It was typically agreed that the Russian military police would first take control of the captured city or region, and the regime’s security forces would only advance after a period of generally six months.

These local “reconciliation agreements” are supplemented by individual “reconciliation offers.” They provide that individuals from formerly opposition-controlled territories can “reconcile” with the Assad regime by reporting to their security forces and expressing their loyalty to the regime. As confirmation of the “reconciliation” they then receive—under certain circumstances—a “Security Approval” (“Taswiya”).

For example, persons who do not seek “reconciliation” because they fear being abused, abducted or killed by the security services during the procedure, as well as persons who do not receive security approval, cannot pass checkpoints and are therefore heavily restricted in their freedom of movement; in many cases they cannot rent a flat, buy or sell real estate, cannot assert property rights and are barred from access to education or other commodities.

All independent reports document that the regime does not abide by the collective or individual reconciliation agreements and that no security guarantee follow from them. Time and again, despite Security Approval, people become victims of severe repression, such as arbitrary arrest, torture or degrading treatment and enforced disappearance.

6.1.1 Sources on the subject of reconciliation agreements

Bundestagsdrucksache 19/4421 Antwort der Bundesregierung auf eine schriftliche Frage (9/2018)

In a reply to a parliamentary request on the reconciliation agreements, the German government states that it has “reports from organisations from recently recaptured areas such as Daraa in southern Syria and Eastern Ghouta near Damascus on the arrests and forced recruitment of former opposition fighters. The Federal Government considers these reports to be fundamentally credible. This practice (…) violates agreements concluded between the Syrian regime and members of the armed opposition as part of so-called “reconciliation agreements”.

http://dipbt.bundestag.de/doc/btd/19/044/1904421.pdf (S.60)

https://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/syrien-bundesregierung-misstraut-baschar-al-assads-versoehnungsversprechen-a-1229927.html

European University Institute: Local Reconciliation Agreements in Syria – a non-starter for Peacebuilding (6/ 2017)

A research report entitled “Local Reconciliation Agreements in Syria – a non-starter for Peacebuilding” by the European University Institute, which examines agreements in 2016 and 2017, concludes that the “reconciliations” are part of the strategy of the Assad regime and its Russian allies to re-conquer strategically important territories, and that in the long run they reinforce rather than remedy the causes of conflict. Obstacles to genuine reconciliation include forced recruitment, the fate of thousands of detainees and disappeared persons, and expropriation.

http://cadmus.eui.eu/bitstream/handle/1814/46864/RSCAS_MED_RR_2017_01.pdf

Middle East Eye: The price of peace? How Damascus strikes deals with beaten rebels (9/2017)

Using Al Waer and Moadimiya as examples, Jonathan Steele concludes that the Reconciliation Agreements are a kind of pragmatic conflict resolution that ultimately benefits many former rebels and many civilians. However, his view is based on interviews conducted under the supervision of the regime.

https://www.middleeasteye.net/big-story/price-peace-how-damascus-strikes-deals-beaten-rebels

Amnesty International: We leave or we die: Forced Displacement under Syrias “Reconciliation”-Agreements (11/2017)

The report describes the siege and bombings of the opposition-controlled cities of Daraya, Al Waer, Eastern Aleppo, Madaya and Zabadani and the subsequent expulsion of large sections of the population. He also discusses the war crimes committed by opposition militias against the cities of Kefraya and Foua, whose population was also besieged and subsequently expelled. The report concludes that the “reconciliation deals” are indeed to be seen as expulsion measures and war crimes.

“Local agreements have increasingly become one of the Syrian government’s key strategies to force the opposition’s surrender. The agreements are presented by the government and its allies as a “reconciliation” effort, but, in reality, they come after prolonged unlawful sieges and bombardment and typically result not only in the evacuation of members of non-state armed groups but also in the mass displacement of civilians. In essence, the deals have enabled the government to reclaim control of territory by first starving and then removing inhabitants who rejected its rule. The population transfers on the now-infamous green buses have come to symbolise the dispossession and defeat.”

https://www.amnestyusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/We-leave-or-we-die_Syria-REPORT.pdf

EASO: EASO COI Meeting 11+12/2017 (3/2018)

Within the framework of a Country of Origin Expert Meeting of the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) on Syria, the example of the Al Valley in northern Damascus is discussed. There, too, the regime’s promises to refrain from forced recruitment were broken.

https://www.ecoi.net/en/file/local/1427709/1226_1522073171_syria-coi-meeting-report-nov-dec-2017-published-march-2018.pdf (S.20)

PAX: Siege Watch 10. Part1 2-4/2018 (4/2018)

In the case of the recapture of Eastern Ghouta in March and April 2018, the regime and its Russian negotiators agreed that in the first six months after the capture, the region would initially only be controlled by Russian military police and that forced recruitment would not take place. However, according to a Pax report, 9,000 men from the region who had either stayed in Eastern Ghouta or fled to Damascus were estimated to have been forced into military service by June 2018. Retractors from “post-surrender communities” such as Eastern Ghouta are regarded as cannon fodder on the front lines. All those who fell in the fight would spare the government from having to deal in the future with the reintegration of men who have deep-rooted rejections against it. Pax reports on massive surveillance of the population remaining in Eastern Ghouta, systematic interrogations, looting and arbitrary arrests. In the course of the capture of the region by the Assad regime in March 2018, civilians were shot dead, according to the report.

https://www.paxforpeace.nl/publications/all-publications/siege-watch-10-part-1 (S. 63ff)

UN (Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic): Sieges as a Weapon of War: Encircle, Starve, Surrender, Evacuate (5/2018)

In its report “Sieges as a Weapon of War: Encircle, Starve, Surrender, Evacuate” (May 2018), the UN Commission of Inquiry describes the reconciliation agreements as an integral part of the strategy of the Assad regime to besiege territories held by opposition militias, starve them, force them to surrender and then evacuate them. According to the UN, the individual reconciliation agreements serve the government troops to categorize the population on the basis of their loyalty. A part of the population is denied “reconciliation”. This would affect, for example, medical personnel who had worked in opposition areas, civilian activists and family members of combatants.

https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/CoISyria/PolicyPaperSieges_29May2018.pdf (S.5) 

Atlantic Council: Breaking Ghouta (9/2018)

“As in previous Syrian government sieges that ended in “reconciliation,” submission to the regime did not end the human rights abuses of local residents in eastern Ghouta. In the aftermath of the enclave’s gradual fall into government hands, the area witnessed the largest forced population transfer recorded throughout the Syrian civil war, a crime against humanity in and of itself,[1] which saw 66,369 people displaced from their homes in eastern Ghouta to the rebel-held north.[2] Those who remained behind are under the constant surveillance of the Syrian security state and endure daily humiliations, arrests, forcible recruitment into the armed forces, and restrictions on their freedom of movement.”

“»Reconciliation« is the term used by the Syrian government and its allies to describe deals between the opposition, those remaining in the area, and those being displaced. In some––not all–– cases, including in Ghouta, these agreements include guarantees for the safety of those choosing to remain in their homes under government control. The agreements call for unimpeded access to humanitarian organizations, and, in the case of Ghouta, the reconciliation included a six-month delay for recruitment of men of fighting age into the armed services. None of the points contained in the reconciliation agreements were upheld in eastern Ghouta.“

http://www.publications.atlanticcouncil.org/breakingghouta/post-reconciliation

Syria Direct: Life after reconciliation marred by arrests, broken promises as Syria’s southwest returns to government control (10/2018)

From the Daraa region taken over by the regime in July 2018, it is reported that the regime is breaking local reconciliation agreements and using individual reconciliation agreements to control the population. Thus, people who have not undergone individual “reconciliation” – de facto a status check with the secret services – cannot move freely and remain excluded from state benefits. Reports speak of arrests and the disappearance of former opposition fighters contrary to previous promises of amnesty. Contrary to promises that local fighters would be able to complete their military service in local defense units, several men were apparently forcibly recruited and sent to the front elsewhere.

https://syriadirect.org/news/life-after-reconciliation-daraa-residents-grapple-with-opaque-political-process-as-key-pieces-of-agreement-falter

Finish Immigration Service Fakta: Fact-Finding-Mission to Beirut and Damascus, April 2018 (12/2018)

“Usually the reconciliation agreements state that the civilians should not face any consequences or infringements. However, according to Cambanis, in most of the cases that he has followed, after some time has passed there have been repercussions for the civilians if they did not leave the area. People have been arrested and then they have disappeared.”

“Three sources state that people might face repercussion after a certain period of time after the reconciliation process. According to Humanitarian Conflict Analyst the document mentioned above that the civilians, according to the source, had to sign and at the same time admit their guilt can be used at any time in a person’s life against him/her. The person could, for example, be detained and imprisoned on this basis. According to Researcher at Amnesty International because some people have to settle their status, it means that they can be detained because of this later on in life.431 Rami says that a person might face repercussions after some time. Even though the government would not accept an apology from an opposition fighter or an activist people could be put under surveillance for a long time. Rami claims that the government “will see if they can benefit from them in anyway” and “if [they] are really wanted” for something.”

https://migri.fi/documents/5202425/5914056/Syria_Fact-finding+mission+to+Beirut+and+Damascus%2C+April+2018.pdf

SJAC: Syrians Arrested, Killed Under Reconciliation Agreements (01/2019)

https://syriaaccountability.org/updates/2019/01/10/syrians-arrested-killed-under-reconciliation-agreements/

Enab Baladi: A year after the Syrian alienation: How has the situation in Eastern Ghouta changed? (2/2019)

Enab Baladi berichtet über Zwangsrekrutierungen und Verhaftungswellen in Ost-Ghouta:

https://english.enabbaladi.net/archives/2019/02/a-year-after-the-syrian-alienation-how-has-the-situation-in-eastern-ghouta-changed/

ACLED: The Risks of Reconciliation (1/2019)

According to ACLED, civilians and former fighters continue to face the thread of arrests and conscription in “reconciled” areas. “The majority of arrests are reported without details of charges; however, when reported, the regime’s clear prioriy is to eliminate remaining structures of resistance, wether civilian or former fighter, and to discourage future rebellion”.


https://www.acleddata.com/2019/01/25/the-risks-of-reconciliation-civilians-and-former-fighters-face-continued-threats-in-syria/

Crisis Group: Lessons from the Syrian State’s Return to the South (2/2019)

https://www.crisisgroup.org/middle-east-north-africa/eastern-mediterranean/syria/196-lessons-syrian-states-return-south

HRW: Syria: Detention, Harassment in Retaken Areas (5/2019)

“Syrian intelligence branches are arbitrarily detaining, disappearing, and harassing people in areas retaken from anti-government groups, Human Rights Watch said today. The abuse is taking place even when the government has entered into reconciliation agreements with the people involved.”

https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/05/21/syria-detention-harassment-retaken-areas

Middle East Institute: Forgotten Lives – Life unter regime rule in former opposition-eld East Ghouta (5/2019)

The report describes surveillance and repression measures of the regime and its Iranian and Russian allies in the Eastern Ghouta region and evaluates them as collective punishment of the population. According to the report, the freedom of movement of the population is restricted and continuously monitored by a system of 84 checkpoints; between April 2018 and February 2019, around 15,000 people were arbitrarily arrested; 40,000 people are currently de facto imprisoned in “shelters” set up by Russian forces and subsequently maintained by the military intelligence service of the Assad regime, where they are subjected to security checks. 1,200 had been transferred from these facilities to the Adra prison, 14 had died of torture, and about 7,000 men had been forcibly recruited.

https://www.mei.edu/sites/default/files/2019-05/Forgotten%20Lives_East%20Ghouta.pdf

NPR: Thousands Of Refugees Returning To Syria End Up Detained, Imprisoned, Tortured (6/2019)

https://www.npr.org/2019/06/24/735510371/thousands-of-refugees-returning-to-syria-end-up-detained-imprisoned-tortured?t=1561448118502

Washington Post: Assad urged Syrian refugees to come home. Many are being welcomed with arrest and interrogation. (6/2019)

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/assad-urged-syrian-refugees-to-come-home-many-are-being-welcomed-with-arrest-and-interrogation/2019/06/02/54bd696a-7bea-11e9-b1f3-b233fe5811ef_story.html

European Institute of Peace: Refugee return in Syria: Dangers, Security Risks and Information Scarcity (7/2019)

“The study also finds that state guarantees to communities or individuals as part of reconciliation agreements are not being met. Additionally, instances have been recorded of individuals from all returnee categories being arrested, detained, conscripted, or harassed after completing the reconciliation process and receiving protection or security papers. Based on the evidence, no communities or individuals should expect the government of Syria or its benefactors to fulfil the terms of any such agreement.”

http://www.eip.org/sites/default/files/EIP%20Report%20-%20Security%20and%20Refugee%20Return%20in%20Syria%20-%20July.pdf

The Syrian Observer / AL Modon: Hezbollah Arrests Them, and the Regime Executes Them (8/2019)

“Al-Modon’s source added that dozens of defectors from eastern Qalamoun who had carried out settlements with regime forces had been arrested in recent months and transferred to Saydnaya after being investigated by Branch 248. Regime forces have forbidden visits to these prisons except through “intermediaries,” with their families paying huge sums to secure visits behind windows which only last minutes every three months. Families of the prisoners fear they could be executed as the Russian “guarantor” neglects its responsibilities.”

https://syrianobserver.com/EN/news/52083/hezbollah-arrests-them-and-the-regime-executes-them.html

UN: Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (9/2019)

Regarding the so called “reconciliation-efforts” in Daraa after syrian regime retook controll the UN COI states: ” 68. Upon capturing Dar‘a Governorate from armed groups in late July 2018, government forces imposed a “reconciliation” process on civilians who had decided to remain in the area. Specifically, all civilians were required to sign an oath of loyalty, a copy of which the Commission recently obtained. Stipulations included numerous infringements of key human rights, including the right to peaceful assembly. Furthermore, civilians were made to reveal the names of anyone who had elected to be evacuated from the area, as well as the contact details of human rights activists. Throughout the latter half of 2018, a committee went to villages throughout Dar‘a in order to make civilians sign the document, they were only given minutes to read and sign it.”

“69. In connection with the “wanted lists” compiled largely on the basis of the intelligence gathered by government forces in the manner described above, the Commission received accounts of enforced disappearances throughout Dar‘a Governorate, with the majority of victims being humanitarian workers deemed to have “betrayed the country” for documenting attacks by the Government. Multiple interviewees noted that the 4th Armoured Division of the Syrian army was controlling Dar‘a. Describing the general security situation in Dar‘a, interviewees reported that individuals connected with the 2011 uprising were being targeted by the 4th Armoured Division.”

https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/CoISyria/A_HRC_42_51.docx

SJAC: Syria’s Newest Decree: Amnesty or a Political Stunt? (9/2019)

Regarding Decree 20/2019 – an Amnesty Syrian President Bashar al-Assad issued on September 15th – the Syria Justice and Accountability Center states that “a close read of the text, as well as an overview of the implementation of past such decrees shows that Decree 20/2019 is largely a political stunt, and unlikely to address the thousands of Syrians who are wrongfully detained or fearful to return due to their lack of military service”.

“The decree does not provide amnesty for any Syrians who participated in the opposition or engaged in any “terrorist activities,” including most crimes specified under the Syrian Anti-Terrorism Law. Instead the amnesty applies to a broad range of laws under the General Penal Code and only three articles under the Anti-Terrorism Law, none which benefit the thousands of political detainees who languish in government prisons. Even for those who may benefit from this decree, there is little reason to trust that it will be fully and fairly implemented.”

“The government continues to pass these hollow amnesty laws to claim that it is addressing international concerns regarding detainees and safety for returning refugees who have not fulfilled service requirements, when in reality countless remain missing in government prisons and returnees are being disappeared. The timing of this decree was particularly notable. The Syrian government announced the amnesty decree the day after Assad hosted Russia’s Special Envoy to Syria and the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister in Damascus. Russia, an ally of the Syrian government, has claimed that it is safe for refugees to return to Syria is safe, and has vested interest in seeing Syria be welcomed back to the international community, which will necessitate progress on detainees and refugee return.”

https://syriaaccountability.org/updates/2019/09/26/syrias-newest-decree-amnesty-or-a-political-stunt/

6.2 Expulsion, expropriation and deprivation of rights of refugees

In particular, the Russian government, the protector of the Assad regime, staging its role as a peace-making force, argues that refugees could return to Syria, provided that Europe supports Syria in reconstruction.

However, the Assad regime, through a series of measures, to makes it more difficult or impossible for internally displaced persons and Syrians who have fled abroad to return to their hometowns or homes.

Tailor-made regulations ensure that people who fled the Assad regime to other parts of the country or abroad have massive difficulties in asserting their property rights or returning to their homes. In some places—such as Qaboun and Daraya—the regime is destroying homes of displaced persons to make room for real estate projects and is denying access to former residents.

This type of “reconstruction” allows the regime to punish or expel dissident milieus while rewarding regime-loyal actors. In addition to the high risk of becoming victims of persecution, arbitrary detention, torture, enforced disappearance and murder, returnees face the risk of being deprived of elementary rights such as the right to property and housing.

6.2.1 Sources on displacement, expropriation and deprivation of rights

Status Report of the Federal Foreign Office (Auswärtiges Amt: Lagebericht November 2018)

In its situation report, the Federal Foreign Office states that various legal regulations threaten the property rights of people who live in or have been expelled from areas formerly controlled by the opposition. The report confirms that people who try to assert their rights are at risk of arbitrary detention. The Federal Foreign Office also confirms that residents of former opposition neighborhoods in Homs and East Ghouta are denied return.

Adopt a Revolution: Reconstructing Syria: Risks and Side Effects(12/2018)

In a study published by Adopt a Revolution, Syrian economists and social scientists shed light on the central questions of Syria’s reconstruction and analyse strategies, actors and interests. The study is available in German, English and Arabic.

In a comprehensive article, Syrian-Swiss political scientist, Joseph Daher, takes a closer look at the strategic and political decisions the Syrian regime has made with regard to reconstruction. He documents in detail how the relevant legislative conditions and various development masterplans for destroyed areas actually prioritise the interests of businesspeople and militias who have proven their loyalty to Bashar al-Assad’s regime. New laws and decrees legalise the demolition of what may best be described as informal settlements, in which lower-income Syrians – a segment of the population that sympathised overwhelmingly with the opposition – lived, as well as sanctioning a complete upending of the social structure in many other locations.

The reconstruction plans of the al-Assad regime largely ignore the needs of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees. Instead the plans cater mostly to the economic interests of the regime itself and its allies. Current Syrian legislation obstructs the return of IDPs and refugees, and legalizes the deprivation of rights of residents of informal settlements. Under the current circumstances, reconstruction would further strengthen the dictatorship and its nepotism, as well as fuel new conflicts. Reconstruction aid therefore presupposes a political solution to the conflict and must be based on the needs of those affected.

PAX: No Return to Homs – A case study on demographic engineering in Syria (2/2017)

This report shows that the government’s displacement strategy in Homs city is a form of demographic engineering, which seeks to permanently manipulate the population along sectarian lines in order to consolidate the government’s power base. Former residents of Homs continued to face persecution even after their initial displacement and many are trapped under siege in other parts of the governorate to this day. Interviewees identified a long list of physical and administrative barriers created by the Syrian government that prevent them from returning to their homes. As a result, they are effectively excluded from rebuilding efforts undertaken by the Syrian government in cooperation with UN agencies with the support of foreign donor states.

https://www.paxforpeace.nl/publications/all-publications/no-return-to-homs

See also: https://is.gd/PAX_siege_watch_10_part_1

UN-Commission of Inquiry: Sieges as a weapon of war (5/2018)

“The evacuation of civilians who are perceived to be sympathetic to opposition factions appears also to serve a Government strategy of punishing those individuals. Taken alongside other steps such as the recent enactment of Presidential Decree no. 10, such acts may fit into a wider plan to strip the displaced of their property rights with the aim of transferring populations or enriching the state and its closest allies.”

https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/CoISyria/PolicyPaperSieges_29May2018.pdf S.5f

Human Rigts Watch (HRW): Syria: Residents Blocked From Returning: Government Demolishes Homes, Denies Property Rights (10/2018)

“Apparently under the guise of a notorious property rights law, the Syrian government is actually blocking residents from returning”.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/10/16/syria-residents-blocked-returning

Finish Immigration Service Fakta: Fact-Finding-Mission to Beirut and Damascus, April 2018 (12/2018)

https://migri.fi/documents/5202425/5914056/Syria_Fact-finding+mission+to+Beirut+and+Damascus%2C+April+2018.pdf

Chatham House: Normalcy Looks a Long Way Off in Eastern Aleppo (1/2019)

https://syria.chathamhouse.org/research/normalcy-looks-a-long-way-off-in-eastern-aleppo

HRW: Rigging the System: Government Policies Co-Opt Aid and Reconstruction Funding in Syria (6/2019)

Human Rights Watch shows how the Assad regime uses reconstruction aid and humanitarian aid from international NGOs or transnational organizations to punish its real or imagined opponents, reward its cronies and to finance its warfare.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/06/28/syria-government-co-opting-recovery-efforts

European Institute of Peace: Refugee return in Syria: Dangers, Security Risks and Information Scarcity (7/2019)

Forced displacement is in some cases also an effect of denied reconciliations: “During reconciliation negotiations, the government produced lists of ‘irreconcilables’ in some areas. In Northern Homs, the government gave local negotiators a list of around 1,000 people it deemed to be ‘irreconcilable’, effectively suggesting that they had a choice between forced displacement and prison without the opportunity to reconcile their affairs with the state.”

http://www.eip.org/sites/default/files/EIP%20Report%20-%20Security%20and%20Refugee%20Return%20in%20Syria%20-%20July.pdf

7. Refugees are not safe anywhere in Syria

Syria is still falling apart in territories controlled by different actors. In none of these regions do those who seek protection find reliable protection. The threat of serious human rights violations and military escalations exists in both in the areas controlled by the Assad regime and those controlled by other actors.

7.1 General sources on the question of internal flight alternatives

Syria Livemap

For an overview on the military situation and the fragmentation of territories in Syria see:

https://syria.liveuamap.com

Status Report of the Federal Foreign Office (Lagebericht des Auswärtigen Amtes) (11/2018)

“There is no comprehensive, long-term and reliable internal protection for persecuted persons in any part of Syria; there is no legal certainty or protection against political persecution, arbitrary arrest and torture.“

UNHCR: International Protection Considerations with regard to people fleeing the Syrian Arab Republic, Update V (11/2017)

“In light of the prevailing conditions in Syria, in particular the multitude and complexity of conflicts, the volatility of the security situation, the reported high level of human rights violations and abuses, and the deeply entrenched suspicions against persons of different backgrounds or origins, UNHCR does not consider it appropriate for states to deny persons from Syria international protection on the basis of an IFA/IRA (=internal flight or relocation alternative)”

https://www.refworld.org/docid/59f365034.html

7.2 Region Idlib

Most parts of Idlib, parts of the northwestern countryside of Aleppo and Parts of eastern Latakia are currently controlled by various oppositional and radical Islamist militias. Turkey has observation posts in the region and supports some of the militia present in Idlib. In the meantime, the region is dominated by the Hai’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) militia, which emerged from the Nursa front, which was originally linked to Al Qaeda. At the beginning of 2019, HTS was able to bring numerous areas in Idib and the northern outskirts of Aleppo under its control, including cities such as Atareb or Maarat al Numan, whose civilian population had long resisted HTS.

Other militias are still present in Idlib, such as Ahrar al-Sham, Failaq al-Sham and Nureddin-al-Zenki and other groups that once belonged to the Free Syrian Army. All these armed groups commit war crimes and/or serious human rights violations. HTS, in particular, which is internationally classified as a terrorist organization, is known for its targeted persecution of political opponents. HTS is accused of numerous political murders and numerous cases of enforced disappearance and torture.

Since the beginning of 2019, the Assad regime and Russia have massively increased their air strikes on the region and have begun a ground offensive. The grenade and air strikes are largely on civil targets, including hospitals, refugee camps and markets. To sabotage the civilian population’s food supply, the Assad regime fires incendiary bombs on cornfields. The attacks are ongoing.

In the period from February to June 2019, several hundred civilians were killed and around 300,000 people were displaced within Idlibs. In the south of Idlib, regime troops with Russian support were able to conquer parts of the region, the advance is currently continuing. Many people flee from the bombardments and the advancing troops to the Turkish border.

Around 3 million people live in Idlib, around half of whom are internally displaced persons. Past regime offensives in Homs, Aleppo, East Ghouta, Daraa and other places formerly held by opposition militia resulted in the displacement of tens of thousands of civilians and armed persons to Idlib. Among the civilians are numerous civilian activists who would face massive persecution if the region were captured by Assad. The escape route to Turkey is usually closed to people; Turkey has largely sealed off the Syrian border and is building new border fortifications, partly on Syrian territory. The humanitarian situation of the people of Idlib, and in particular those who are internally displaced, is considered difficult to catastrophic. Around 1.6 million people depend on humanitarian aid.

7.1.1 Sources

UN OCHA: Syrian Arab Republic: Recent Developments in Northwestern Syria Situation Report No. 13 (10/2019)

https://reliefweb.int/report/syrian-arab-republic/syrian-arab-republic-recent-developments-northwestern-syria-situation-6

Crisis Group: Voices of Idlib (7/2018):

https://www.crisisgroup.org/middle-east-north-africa/eastern-mediterranean/syria/voices-

UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria: Unparalleled numbers of Syrians displaced in under six months (9/2018)

https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/Pages/NewsDetail.aspx?NewsID=23541&LangID=E

UN Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (1/2019)

“During the period under review, the Commission documented several incidents of civilians detained arbitrarily by Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham or abducted by members of armed groups and criminal gangs and held hostage for ransom in their strongholds in Idlib and northern Aleppo. Civilians in Idlib also suffered from the lack of a centralized system of governance under the parallel structures of two dominant systems: the opposition’s “interim government” and the “salvation government” of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham. Under the oppressive rule of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham terrorists, girls in Idlib were also denied access to education.”

“An extensive pattern of kidnappings and abductions has emerged, for example, in which members of armed groups and criminal gangs in Idlib abduct affluent civilians, including doctors and humanitarian actors, and hold them for ransom to finance their activities. Victims are most often taken from their workplaces and driven in vans with tinted windows to unknown locations. Some abductees described being held in basements, often in solitary confinement, while others were taken to rural areas. In areas under the control of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, numerous civilians continue to be detained arbitrarily for expressing political dissent.”

http://undocs.org/en/A/HRC/40/70

HRW: Syria: Arrests, Torture by Armed Group (1/2019)

https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/01/28/syria-arrests-torture-armed-group

Middle East Eye: „Is HTS winning hearts and minds in Syria?“ (2/2019)

https://www.middleeasteye.net/opinion/hts-winning-hearts-and-minds-syria

BBC: Syria war: Why does the battle for Idlib matter? (5/2019)

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-45403334

Crisis Group: Report on Syria (5/2019):

https://www.crisisgroup.org/crisiswatch/may-2019#syria

Amnesty International: Idlib: Millions in Need of Protection (5/2019)

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2018/08/idleb-millions-in-need-of-protection-world-must-act-now

UN: Risk grows of ‘catastrophic humanitarian fallout’ (5/2019)

https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/05/1038681

UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria: Urgent steps needed to prevent outright catastrophe in north-western Syria (5/2019)

https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/Pages/NewsDetail.aspx?NewsID=24586&LangID=E

Syrian Human Rights Comitee: Seven people executed by Sham Liberation organisation (HTS) (6/2019)

https://www.shrc.org/en/?p=32514

Syrian Observatory of Human Rights (SOHR): In 4 months since the dark meeting of “Putin – Erdogan – Rouhani”, more than 2165 people were killed within “de-escalation” area, including about 715 civilians and including 340 children and women (6/2019)

http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=131456

PAX: Idlib: 5 things you need to know (6/2019)

https://www.paxforpeace.nl/stay-informed/news/idlib-5-things-you-need-to-know

7.3 Afrin und die türkisch kontrollierte Zone im Nordwesten

Northeast of the Idlib region lies Turkish zone of influence. In January 2018, Turkey joined forces with predominantly Islamist Arab and Turkmen militias to advance against the enclave of Afrin, previously held by the majority Kurdish People’s Defence Units. The offensive, during which Turkey and its allies committed war crimes, ended in March 2018 with the occupation of Afrin by Turkey and its allies.

Numerous reports document the looting and expropriation of Kurdish civilian homes in which relatives of pro-Turkish fighters or refugees from other parts of Syria were quartered without their owners being compensated. The security situation remains fragile. Time and again, terrorist attacks and fighting between the rebel factions allied with Turkey occur. There are also regular arrests, enforced disappearances and torture by armed persons supported by the Turkish government. The Turkish invasion of Afrin caused a mass exodus of tens of thousands, probably well over a hundred thousand people.

The north of the province of Aleppo is also under Turkish oversight. In August 2016, Turkey intervened with the operation “Euphrates Shield”, which was directed against the IS, but especially against the YPG. Since then, Turkish troops have been present in the region. Observers report of difficult to catastrophic conditions for the civilian population, in particular, internally displaced people, as well as of conflicts between opposition militias present there, serious human rights violations and the continuing risks of violent confrontation.

7.2.1 Quellen

Human Rights Watch: Turkey-backed forces seizing property in Syria’s Afrin (6/2018)

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-afrin-humanright/human-rights-watch-turkey-backed-forces-seizing-property-in-syrias-afrin-idUSKBN1JA20W

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR): Fighting renews in Afrin between factions operating within the Turkish-backed operation of the “Olive Branch” (7/2018)

http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=97371

Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF): Clashes erupt between Turkey-backed rebels in Syria’s Afrin province (7/2018)

https://stockholmcf.org/clashes-erupt-between-turkey-backed-rebels-in-syrias-afrin-province/

Amnesty International: Türkei muss schwere Menschenrechtsverletzungen in Afrin stoppen (8/2018)

https://www.amnesty.de/informieren/aktuell/syrien-tuerkei-muss-schwere-menschenrechtsverletzungen-afrin-stoppen

Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (8/2018)

https://www.ecoi.net/en/file/local/1443546/1930_1537263792_g1824615.pdf

Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (1/2019)

The UN report speaks of a state of lawlessness in Afrin and the surrounding area, it reports numerous serious violations of human rights.

https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/G1902320.pdf

UN Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (1/2019)

“Similarly, with the conclusion of Operation Olive Branch by Turkey in March 2018, arbitrary arrests, detention and pillaging became pervasive throughout Afrin District (Aleppo). The lack of effective complaint mechanisms and a centralized judiciary, coupled with the presence of dozens of armed actors power-sharing on the sub-district level, created confusion among civilians about which institution was responsible for addressing specific grievances, including in cases of detention and property appropriation. Infighting among armed groups and a series of car bombs exacerbated an already unstable security situation. As in Idlib, abductions for ransom by armed group members and criminal gangs prevailed.”

“Fighting by armed factions for control over pockets of territory increased significantly. Frequent clashes included the use of car bombs and improvised explosive devices, particularly in the densely populated centres of Afrin and Azaz cities, which killed and injured dozens of civilians, including women and children. On 16 December, for example, a car bomb exploded in al-Hal vegetable market in Afrin city, killing up to 12 civilians and wounding scores of others.”

http://undocs.org/en/A/HRC/40/70

Voice of America: Rights Groups: Abuses on the Rise in Syria’s Afrin (6/2019)

https://www.voanews.com/extremism-watch/rights-groups-abuses-rise-syrias-afrin

UN OHCHR: Between a Rock and a Hard Place – Civilians in North-western Syria (6/2018)

https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/ohchr_-_syria_monthly_human_rights_digest_-_june_2018.pdf

Amnesty International: Human Rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Review of 2018 (2/2019)

The report lists numerous crimes committed by Turkish forces and Turkish-backed militias in Afrin, particularly looting and arbitrary arrests.

https://www.ecoi.net/en/file/local/2003684/MDE2499032019ENGLISH.pdf

SOHR: After almost a year of arresting him, a Kurdish citizen dies in jails of the Turkey-loyal factions after being tortured and severely beaten (7/2019)

http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=133248

UN: Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (9/2019)

“Throughout Afrin, the dire security situation continued to foster an environment in which human rights abuses were committed, including abductions and kidnappings, often for a combination of economic, political and security reasons.”

https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/CoISyria/A_HRC_42_51.docx

7.4 Northeastern Syria

For several years the largest area outside the control of the Assad regime has been the Kurdish-dominated Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, often referred to as “Rojava”. Politically, the region was controlled by the PYD party and militarily by the Kurdish People’s Defence Units (YPG) and the Kurdish-influenced Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The PYD and YPG are considered to be sister organizations of the PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization in Germany

After a phase of stability, the region is currently highly contested. Background to this is the partial withdrawal of the USA and a resulting Turkish Invasion, which has been on the agenda of turkey for years. The predominantly Kurdish administration of the hitherto largely autonomous region has called on the Assad regime and Russia to help it to defend itself against the Turkish invasion, with the result that numerous armed actors and different interests now face each other in the region, and further military escalations seem likely. Several actors already committed war crimes against the civilian population, tens of thousands of people are on the run.

Due to the advance of Turkey, the Kurdish self-government is negotiating with the Assad regime for autonomy status. To what extent the Assad regime will allow autonomy of the region in the longer term and to what extent Kurdish self-government is prepared to hand over state control to the Assad regime is uncertain. The Assad regime has repeatedly stressed that it wants to recapture all parts of the country.

Even before the escalation in October 2019, the situation in the Kurdish-influenced north-east was marked by numerous conflicts. For many reasons, there was and still is considerable distrust between the Arab and Kurdish sections of the population, even to the point of massive hostility.

In the past, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have repeatedly reported displacement of Arab populations by Kurdish armed groups. The reports were vehemently rejected by the Kurdish side. It is clear that despite its democratic self-image, the PYD repeatedly pursues political opponents, and that forced conscription and other human rights violations, including cases of enforced disappearance, occur.

7.3.1 Sources

USDOS Country Report 2017

„Local media sources and human rights groups such as Syrians for Truth and Justice reported that, in areas under its control, the YPG, considered to be the military wing of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), arrested journalists, human rights activists, opposition party members, and persons who refused to join Kurdish armed forces groups. In some instances the location of the detainees remained unknown.“

https://www.ecoi.net/de/dokument/1430098.html

Amnesty International Report 2017/18

„A number of Syrian-Kurdish opposition activists, including members of the Kurdish National Council in Syria, were arbitrarily arrested and detained. Many of them were detained on remand for a long time under very poor conditions.“

https://www.ecoi.net/de/dokument/1425111.html

HRW:  Syria: Thousands of Displaced Confined to Camps (8/2018) 

„Authorities from the Syrian Democratic Council, a civilian authority operating in areas retaken from ISIS, and the Kurdish Autonomous Administration operate these displacement camps. They have confiscated residents’ identification documents and arbitrarily prevented them from leaving. Camp confinement has increased vulnerability to exploitation, separated families, and restricted their health care access. Both authorities are constituted primarily from the Democratic Union Party (PYD).“

https://www.ecoi.net/de/dokument/1439887.html

HRW: Syria: Armed Group Recruiting Children in Camps (8/2018)

„The People’s Protection Units (YPG), the largest member of the Syrian Democratic Forces military alliance in northeast, has been recruiting children, including girls, and using some in hostilities despite pledges to stop the practice, Human Rights Watch said today.“

https://www.ecoi.net/de/dokument/1439890.html

HRW: Syria: Kurdish-led Administration Jails Rivals (9/2018) 

„The Democratic Union Party-led Autonomous Administration has apparently detained members of the Kurdish National Council arbitrarily, and in some cases appears to have forcibly disappeared them.“

https://www.ecoi.net/de/dokument/1443063.html

UN Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (1/2019)

In areas under the control of SDF, thousands of women, men and children continued to be unlawfully interned or detained, some of them held in deplorable conditions in makeshift camps unfit to meet their basic needs. There is, moreover, a concern that Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorists and their affiliates are being held incommunicado by SDF and United States forces without adequate judicial guarantees, conditions that are conducive to detainee abuse.

http://undocs.org/en/A/HRC/40/70

SNHR: Brief Report: An Increasing Frequency of Arrests and Enforced Disappearances by Kurdish Self-Management Forces (2/2019)

http://sn4hr.org/blog/2019/02/18/53347/

Airwars: Five years of war and ISIS is defeated as a territorial entity – but civilian deaths remain largely uncounted

Airwar reports constantly on civilian victims of the US-led anti-IS coalition.

https://airwars.org/news-and-investigations/five-years-of-war-and-isis-is-defeated-as-a-territorial-entity-but-civilian-deaths-remain-largely-uncounted/

Amnesty and Airwars: Civilian harm during battle for Raqqa  ten times higher than Coalition admits (4/2019)

https://airwars.org/news-and-investigations/raqqa-amnesty-airwars

Syrians for Truth and Justice: : Prominent Activists Arbitrarily Arrested in Raqqa (9/2019)

https://stj-sy.org/en/syria-prominent-activists-arbitrarily-arrested-in-raqqa/

7.4 Freedom of Movement inside Syria

Internal flight alternatives not only require safe areas, but also that they are accessible. Due to many factors, freedom of movement within Syria is severely restricted. This also applies to certain groups of people within the areas controlled by the Assad regime due to certain restrictions. For example, parts of the population of formerly opposition-controlled territories may not enter or leave them – or only under certain circumstances.

Amnesty International: Human Rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Review of 2018 (2/2019)

“Despite the lifting of the siege of Eastern Ghouta in April, government forces continued to restrict the movement of civilians in and out of Douma, a town in the area. Some civilians were allowed to return to their homes following a security screening, but others were allowed to access the area for only 48 hours if they left their ID with security forces. People residing in Douma needed authorities’ approval to leave the town.”

https://www.ecoi.net/en/file/local/2003684/MDE2499032019ENGLISH.pdf

European Institute of Peace: Refugee return in Syria: Dangers, Security Risks and Information Scarcity (7/2019)

Localisation of power structures implies risks, especially for those who move between different areas: “Thus assessing the current security situation in a given area requires understanding the local dynamics. Without unfettered local access across the country, it would be impossible to evaluate the security situation or conditions for return. Additionally, security in one area or jurisdiction does not equate to similar security elsewhere: individuals can face risks moving around to visit family or friends, or to seek employment opportunities or services. For example, a Zabadani local described below was arrested while seeking medical treatment in Damascus, despite enjoying safety within his area of origin.”

http://www.eip.org/sites/default/files/EIP%20Report%20-%20Security%20and%20Refugee%20Return%20in%20Syria%20-%20July.pdf

Finish Immigration Service Fakta: Fact-Finding-Mission to Beirut and Damascus, April 2018 (12/2018)

“Regarding the questions concerning the freedom of movement – or the lack of it – the status of being wanted or having any doubts of being wanted by the Syrian government is a matter that hinders the movement of Syrians inside the country. Based on the information from the interviews the profiles of people who are wanted are a wide category of people. Also, people do not necessarily know whether they are wanted or not. If people need to cross checkpoints it is common to check if one is wanted in advance and to pay some bribes at the checkpoint to facilitate the crossing.”

https://migri.fi/documents/5202425/5914056/Syria_Fact-finding+mission+to+Beirut+and+Damascus%2C+April+2018.pdf

8. The war is not over

The widespread belief that the war in Syria is almost over is wrong. In some parts of the country, the war continues; in other regions, there is a threat of new escalations. Furthermore, the land is fragmented into different territories. Since the Assad regime claims to seek to recapture the entire territory military, there is the threat of more offensives.

In addition, several regional and international conflicts overlap in the Syrian war, for example between Turkey and the Kurds, between Iran and Israel, between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and between Russia and the US. And even if military peace should come to Syria, large sections of the Syrian population will continue to suffer great violence from the repressive apparatus of the Assad regime.

8.1 New phase of conflict instead of end of conflict

Many observers point out that although the military conflicts have decreased, the conflict is not coming to an end, but is entering a new phase.

“While fighting has declined significantly overall, areas are still affected by the conflict and its immediate consequences: The regime can continue to carry out air strikes across the country, except in areas under Turkish or Kurdish control. Terrorist attacks can occur in any part of the country. In addition to these general dangers, there is also the blanket risk of becoming a target of state repression, especially for those who are considered oppositional by the regime.”

Status Report of the Federal Foreign Office, November 2018, p. 14

In an expert meeting on Syria convened by the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), analyst Christopher Kozak concludes that while many countries would be keen to present the situation in Syria as if the war was soon to be over, the war was instead moving “into a new, no less dangerous phase of the conflict.”

Superficially, this would seem less violent, however, this is not a post-war phase, but a new manifestation of the conflict. “Meanwhile, the Syrian civil war is increasingly associated with several stubborn regional conflicts—Turkey against the Syrian Kurdish PYD, Israel and Saudi Arabia against Iran, the US’ anti-ISIS coalition against Iran and Russia. This overlap of regional and local conflicts has been present throughout the war, but it is now coming to the fore.” (https://is.gd/EASO_COI_MEETING, (See in particular p. 12 and p. 15)

The claim that the war will soon be over, for one thing, contradicts the high probability that hostilities can still be expected on different fronts in Syria. Secondly, under the rule of the Assad regime, because of its massive persecution of large sections of the population and massive arbitrary use of force, there can be no question of peace even if the intensity of hostilities were to actually sharply decline.

“”There is a high risk that the Syrian government will continue its efforts to force people to submit when the fighting is over. (…) The international community and humanitarian actors in Syria must understand that “post-surrender” does not mean “post conflict” (…). ” (https://is.gd/PAX_siege_watch_10_part_1, S.80 )

8.2 Threat of offensives by the Assad regime

Assad has repeatedly affirmed his desire to recapture the whole territory, no matter what. Against the backdrop of the recent military offensives of the regime and its allies, these statements of intent seem credible. The regime is currently trying to take over the Idlib region with Russian support, with civilian casualties occurring almost daily. (See also chapter 7 and chapter 9 on Idlib))

Nor can it be ruled out that the Assad regime might actually attempt to recapture the Turkish controlled areas in the northeast and the northwest. (See also chapter 7)

8.3 Escalation in the Northeast

Turkish Invasion

Since October 2019, Turkey has been advancing against the Kurdish-dominated autonomous region on its southern border. The PYD is considered the sister party of the PKK, which is classified as a terrorist organisation in Turkey and also in Europe. Currently there are massive military clashes between the Turkish army or Turkish supported militias, the YPG/SDF and troops loyal to the regime. (For Afrin and the Turkish zone of influence see also chapter 7)

Assad regime and Kurdish self-government

Conflicts between the Kurdish SDF or the YPG and the Assad regime cannot be completely ruled out, even though both are currently allying against Turkey. It is uncertain to what extent the Assad regime will allow autonomy for the Kurdish-influenced region in the longer term and to what extent the Kurdish dominated self-government is prepared to hand over state control to the Assad regime.

Presence of the USA in northern Syria

The stability in northeastern Syria, which had lasted for several years, depended to a large extent on the presence of American troops, which offered the region protection from attacks by Turkey and from attacks by the Assad regime and its allies. Although the US government has now made the Turkish offensive possible by announcing its withdrawal, it is still present in the region, US-troops were ordered to secure oil fields in Deir ez Zor province. Future role of US troops is unclear in view of the erratic course of the US government. It is also unclear whether EU states will intervene.

Internal conflict potential

In northern Syria, there is a threat of conflicts between Arab and Kurdish populations, although civil society actors on both sides are trying to reduce this potential for conflict.

On top of many historical reasons, the conflict is fuelled by Turkish intervention in the north, where Arab-influenced militias are present in Kurdish dominated regions where they commit serious human rights violations (see Chapter 7).

In addition, the territory governed by the Kurdish self-government, after the victory of the YPG/SDF over the “IS”, extends deep into regions with mostly Arab populations (Deir ez-Zor, Raqqa and the east of the province of Aleppo around the city of Manbij). Although the Democratic Federation of North Syria calls itself a multi-ethnic and democratic government, displacement and repression of Arab populations are reported repeatedly (see Chapter 7). The “IS” and the fight against the “IS” have led to mistrust on both sides.

8.4 Risiko von Anschlägen

Furthermore, terror attacks by jihadist groups such as the “IS” or HTS are to be expected throughout the country. In 2018, the “IS” perpetrated several complex attacks, killing over a hundred civilians. Despite the military victory over the “IS” in early 2019, it can be assumed that individual cells will continue to remain active in Syria and commit terrorist attacks.

“In parts of the Syrian-Iraqi border area and elsewhere, IS continues to exist locally and continues to be in a position to carry out attacks throughout the country.”

Status Report of the Federal Foreign Office, November 2018, p. 6

It can be assumed that some armed opposition continues to exist underground and carry out attacks. This does not just apply to jihadist groups. In the Daraa region, a group called “Popular Resistance” carries out attacks and assaults on regime actors.

COAR Syria Update: July 25- July 31

“A series of assassination attempts in northeast Syria targeted prominent Arab figures noted for their opposition to the SDF; the attacks followed a meeting between Deir-ez-Zor Military Council and representatives of the U.S.-led coalition. The instability within the Deir-ez-Zor Military Council reflects the wider fissures opening along tribal, ethnic, and political lines in northeast Syria. The degree to which the international coalition is able to contain these pressures will be crucial to the stability of the northeast in the long term.”

https://mailchi.mp/3223618b1241/coar-syria-update-july-25-july-31?e=27f6255d3b

8.5 Conflict between Iran and Israel

The Iran-backed Lebanese Hezbollah and other Iranian and Iran-funded Shiite militias have long supported the Assad regime. They were able to gain significant political influence in Syria and build military infrastructure that is directed against Israel.

Israel regularly flies air raids against weapons depots and other targets associated with the Iranian presence in Syria. It is difficult to predict how the military conflict between Israel and Iran will develop in Syria. Escalation cannot be ruled out

8.6 Warlordization of the Assad regime?

The Assad regime owes its military advance to the support of many different actors. The entirety of armed forced loyal to the regime comprise many different militias and army units. These include local Syrian militias, Iranian-funded militias such as the Afghan-Shiite Fatemioun militia or the Lebanese Hezbollah, Iraqi-Shiite militias, Russian and Russian-led troops, Russian military police and mercenary companies such as the Russian Wagner Group.

Many of these armed groups are accused of war crimes as well as looting, kidnapping, smuggling and other criminal activities for the purpose of their own enrichment. There have been repeated reports of fighting between various armed groups loyal to the regime. Some observers report conflicts between Iranian-backed and Russian-backed armed actors loyal to the regime.

Some observers have therefore diagnosed Syria with warlord-ization or feudalization, consequently, with a loss of state sovereignty. Other observers emphasize that the regime has succeeded surprisingly well in recent years in keeping the different actors together. Russia in particular is trying to prevent internal erosion of the Assad regime.

Regardless of how profound the conflicts are between different factions loyal to the regime and whether there could be a military escalation in the future, it must be assumed that there is no clear state monopoly on power in the regions held by the Assad regime. Civilians in Syria face the arbitrariness of various armed parties loyal to the regime. The Syrian state is not willing or able to reliably protect its citizens from attacks by militias loyal to the regime.

“Attacks by non-state actors have increased dramatically. First and foremost, these were attacks by pro-regime militia, for whom the transition between political mission, military or police tasks and mafia-like business conduct is fluid.”

Status Report of the Federal Foreign Office, November 2018

8.6.1 Sources

Der Spiegel: Assad’s Control Erodes as Warlords Gain Upper Hand (3/2017): 

https://www.spiegel.de/international/world/assad-power-slips-in-syria-as-warlords-grow-more-powerful-a-1137475-2.html

SFH: Syrien: Zwangsrekrutierung, Wehrdienstentzug, Desertion (3/2017)

Among other things, the report deals with paramilitary militias loyal to the regime. “Efforts to keep these militias under state control have largely failed.”

https://www.fluechtlingshilfe.ch/assets/herkunftslaender/mittlerer-osten-zentralasien/syrien/170323-syr-militaerdienst.pdf

Chatham House: How Syria’s War Economy Propels the Conflict (7/2017) 

https://syria.chathamhouse.org/research/how-syrias-war-economy-propels-the-conflict

Middle East Institute: Aleppo’s Warlords and Post-War Reconstruction (7/2017):

https://www.mei.edu/publications/aleppos-warlords-and-post-war-reconstruction

War on the Rocks: The (last) King of Syria: The Feudalization of Assad’s Rule (11/2017)

https://warontherocks.com/2017/11/the-last-king-of-syria-the-feudalization-of-assads-rule/

PAX: Siege Watch 10. Part 1 2-4/2018 

„The international community and humanitarian agencies operational in Syria must recognize that “post-surrender” does not mean “post-conflict,” and respond accordingly.“ (S.80)

https://www.paxforpeace.nl/publications/all-publications/siege-watch-10-part-1

Business Insider: Syria ‘is being swallowed whole by its clients’: Assad may be losing control over his own militias (8/2018)

https://www.businessinsider.de/syrian-regime-militias-becoming-warlords-2016-8?r=US&IR=T 

Carnegie: By integrating pro-regime armed groups into state structures, the Assad regime has created a hybrid military order. (11/2018)

https://carnegie-mec.org/diwan/77635

Finish Immigration Service Fakta: Fact-Finding-Mission to Beirut and Damascus, April 2018 (12/2018)

The report focuses on the role of the Syrian army and regime-loyal armed groups and their recruitment practices. Among other things, it discusses the extent to which certain regime-loyal armed units act autonomously or are subject to state control. According to the report, certain armed groups enjoy limited autonomy and privileges, such as the possibility of plundering and blackmailing to enrich themselves in certain regions. In some cases there are conflicts between regular state organs and units loyal to the regime. After largely autonomously operating militia loyal to the regime played an important role in the reconquest of large parts of Syria, the state increasingly tried to regain control of them.

https://migri.fi/documents/5202425/5914056/Syria_Fact-finding+mission+to+Beirut+and+Damascus%2C+April+2018.pdf

Der Spiegel: Assads Verbündete gehen aufeinander los (01/2019)

https://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/syrien-krieg-verbuendete-von-baschar-al-assad-gehen-aufeinander-los-a-1249835.html

The Syrian Observer: Fifth Corps Attacks Assad Intelligence in Daraa (4/2019)

Members of Russia’s Fifth Corps have attacked regime checkpoints and accused those in charge of them of treating local residents badly and imposing unfair tolls writes Human Voice.

https://syrianobserver.com/EN/news/49523/fifth-corps-attacks-assad-intelligence-in-daraa.html

Chatham House: Understanding the characteristics of the new emerging state in Syria (6/2019)

The analyst Haid Haid points out that in some parts of the country the regime can exercise only limited control and that a clear monopoly of the state on the use of force cannot be assumed everywhere – above all due to the presence of various militia loyal to the regime and Iranian and Russian troops.

https://syria.chathamhouse.org/research/understanding-the-characteristics-of-the-new-emerging-state-in-syria

9. Assad is at war with his own people

Syrian civilians do not just have to worry about accidentally becoming “collateral damage” of warfare. Targeted attacks on civilians are part of the military strategy of the Assad regime and its allies. Civilians in areas controlled by opposition militias were and are considered by the Assad regime to be enemies and are collectively punished. War crimes against civilians—including bombing of civilian targets, the use of banned weapons, and sieges—have so far remained unpunished and have paid off for the Assad regime.

Currently, the regime and its Russian allies are committing massive war crimes during their Idlib offensive. It is likely that the Assad regime will commit war crimes and crimes against humanity elsewhere, if it sees fit.

9.1 Attacks on civilian targets

Attacks on civilian targets are described by many independent observers to be part of the regime’s military strategy. All reports by UN institutions, human rights organizations and other independent agencies document targeted Syrian and Russian Air Force air strikes and artillery shelling on civil infrastructure, including hospitals, schools, markets, neighbourhoods and other non-military targets.

Time and again, internationally banned weapons are used in the attacks, including cluster bombs, incendiary bombs, barrel bombs and chemical weapons. Although casualties fell in 2018 compared to previous years due to the reduced intensity of military conflicts, Syria was still the most dangerous country for civilians in 2018 worldwide. As in previous regime offensives—for example on Homs, Aleppo; East Ghouta, Daraa and South Damascus—the current offensive on Idlib is also characterized by war crimes.

9.1.1 Sources

New York Times: U.N. Reports Syria Uses Hospital Attacks as a ‘Weapon of War’ (9/2013)

https://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/14/world/middleeast/un-panel-accuses-syria-of-attacking-hospitals.html

Amnesty International: Syrian and Russian Forces Targeting Hospitals as a Strategy of War (3/2016) 

https://www.amnesty.org/en/press-releases/2016/03/syrian-and-russian-forces-targeting-hospitals-as-a-strategy-of-war

Atlantic Council: Breaking Aleppo (2/2017)

http://www.publications.atlanticcouncil.org/breakingaleppo/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/BreakingAleppo.pdf

UN OCHA: “Distraught by the brutality and utter disregard for civilian lives we are witnessing” (2/2018)

https://www.unocha.org/story/syria-distraught-brutality-and-utter-disregard-civilian-lives-we-are-witnessing-un-chiefs

UN Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (2/2018)

https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/CoISyria/A-HRC-37-72_EN.pdf

UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria: The siege and recapture of eastern Ghouta marked by war crimes, crimes against humanity (6/2018)

https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23226&LangID=E 

PAX: Siege Watch – Tenth Quarterly Report Part 1 – Eastern Ghouta February–April 2018 (6/2018)

The tenth quarterly Siege Watch report (part 1) describes the final offensive against Eastern Ghouta, between February and April 2018, in which at least 1,700 people were killed, 5,000 injured and 158,000 displaced.

https://www.paxforpeace.nl/publications/all-publications/siege-watch-10-part-1

Atlantic Council: Breaking Ghouta (9/2018)

http://www.publications.atlanticcouncil.org/breakingghouta/background

Amnesty International: Syria: Unlawful attacks using cluster munitions and unguided barrel bombs intensify as Idlib offensive looms (10/2018)

https://www.ecoi.net/de/dokument/1443438.html

USDOS: Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2017 – Syria

https://www.ecoi.net/de/dokument/1430098.html

HRW: World Report 2018

https://www.ecoi.net/de/dokument/1422595.html

Amnesty International Report 2017/18 – The State of the World’s Human Rights – Syria

https://www.ecoi.net/de/dokument/1425111.html

UN: Report of the Secretary-General (S/2018/845) (8/2018) 

https://www.ecoi.net/en/file/local/1444197/1226_1537959201_n1828671.pdf

Bellingcat: The Battle of Idlib Opens with the Bombing of Medical and Rescue Facilities (9/2018)

https://www.bellingcat.com/news/mena/2018/09/09/battle-idlib-opens-bombing-medical-rescue-facilities/

Accled 2018: The year in Review (01/2019)

https://www.acleddata.com/2019/01/11/acled-2018-the-year-in-review/

UN Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (01/2019)

https://undocs.org/en/A/HRC/40/70

HRW: World Report 2019 – Syria (1/2019)

“Indiscriminate attacks on civilians and civilian objects by the Syrian-Russian military alliance persisted in 2018. In February, government forces launched a military campaign to retake Eastern Ghouta, an urban suburb of Damascus. Over 1,600 civilians were reportedly killed between February 18 until March 21. The Syrian-Russian military alliance struck at least 25 medical facilities, 11 schools, and countless civilian residences.”

https://www.ecoi.net/de/dokument/2002172.html

Amnesty International: Human Rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Review of 2018 (2/2019)

“Government forces, with the support of Russia, repeatedly attacked areas controlled by armed opposition groups, including Eastern Ghouta and Daraa and Idlib governorates, killing and injuring civilians. They carried out indiscriminate attacks and direct attacks on civilian homes, hospitals and medical facilities, including artillery shelling and air strikes, often using unguided weapons such as barrel bombs, incendiary weapons and internationally banned cluster munitions. For example, on 22 March, Russian forces carried out an air strike using an incendiary weapon on a residential building, burning to death 37 civilians – mainly women and children – in an air-raid shelter in Arbin, Eastern Ghouta.”

https://www.ecoi.net/en/file/local/2003684/MDE2499032019ENGLISH.pdf

Phycicians for Human Rights (PHR): The Syrian Conflict: Eight Years of Devastation and Destruction of the Health System (3/2019)

https://phr.org/resources/the-syrian-conflict-eight-years-of-devastation-and-destruction-of-the-health-system/

Carnegie: What Will Happen in Idlib, Where Millions of Syrian Civilians Are Penned In? (7/2019)

https://carnegie-mec.org/diwan/79469?la

EU/EEAS: Statement by the Spokesperson on the deterioration of the situation in Idlib, Syria (7/2019)

https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage/65814/statement-spokesperson-deterioration-situation-idlib-syria_en

UN OCHA: Recent Developments in Northwestern Syria Situation Report No. 9 (8/2019)

“Satellite imagery obtained from UNOSAT (United Nations Operational Satellite Applications Programme) shows at least 17 entire villages which have been almost completely destroyed, including residential and commercial areas.”

https://www.humanitarianresponse.info/sites/www.humanitarianresponse.info/files/documents/files/nw_update_sitrep_9-_final.pdf

UN: Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (9/2019)

“After more than seven years of brutal armed conflict, the most salient feature of the hostilities throughout the Syrian Arab Republic remains the wilful non-compliance with international law. Moreover, all warring parties continue to ignore or deny arbitrarily assurances of protection, including guarantees of sustained and unhindered humanitarian assistance to vulnerable civilian populations. Meanwhile, the deliberate targeting of civilian-inhabited areas and protected objects flared up during the period under review.

https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/CoISyria/A_HRC_42_51.docx

NYT: 12 Hours. 4 Syrian Hospitals Bombed. One Culprit: Russia (10/2019)

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/13/world/middleeast/russia-bombing-syrian-hospitals.amp.html

9.2 Use of chemical weapons

The United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria investigated 37 uses of poison gas up until January 2018—the UN attributes 32 of these poison gas cases to the Assad regime and no one has been identified in the remaining five cases. There is no doubt that the Assad regime has repeatedly used both chlorine gas and sarin.

Human Rights Watch and many other organizations have described the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime as systematic. The use of chemical weapons has remained unpunished, with the exception of largely symbolic unilateral US military strikes. It must be feared that the Assad regime will continue to use chemical weapons.

9.2.1 Quellen

HRW: Attacks on Ghouta: Analysis of Alleged Use of Chemical Weapons in Syria (9/2013)

https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/syria_cw0913_web_1.pdf

HRW: Death by Chemicals: The Syrian Government’s Widespread and Systematic Use of Chemical Weapons (5/2017)

https://www.hrw.org/report/2017/05/01/death-chemicals/syrian-governments-widespread-and-systematic-use-chemical-weapons

UN COI: Chemical Weapons Attacks Documented by the International Commission of Inquiry (1/2018)

https://www.ohchr.org/SiteCollectionImages/Bodies/HRCouncil/IICISyria/COISyria_ChemicalWeapons.jpg

UN COI, Press statement on the alleged use of chemical weapons in eastern Ghouta (4/2018)

https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/Pages/NewsDetail.aspx?NewsID=22939&LangID=E

New York Times: One Building, One Bomb: How Assad Gassed His Own People (6/2018)

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/06/25/world/middleeast/syria-chemical-attack-douma.html

Atlantic Council: Breaking Ghouta (9/2018)

http://www.publications.atlanticcouncil.org/breakingghouta/chemical-weapons

Die Zeit: UN werfen Assad-Regime weitere Chemiewaffeneinsätze vor (9/2018) 

https://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2018-09/syrien-ostghuta-chemiewaffeneinsatz-eu-kommission-bericht

HRW: World Report 2019 – Syria (1/2019)

“The Syrian-Russian military alliance used internationally banned cluster munitions and chemical weapons in re-taking areas. Human Rights Watch investigated 36 cluster munition attacks between July 2017 and June 2018 and another two-dozen more possible cluster munition attacks. Evidence suggests the alliance used incendiary weapons in Ghouta and Daraa. Between 2013 and 2018, Human Rights Watch and seven other independent, international organizations investigated and confirmed at least 85 chemical weapons attacks – the majority perpetrated by Syrian government forces. The actual number of chemical attacks is likely higher.”

https://www.ecoi.net/de/dokument/2002172.html

Global Policy Institute: Nowhere to Hide: The Logic of Chemical Weapons Use in Syria (2/2019)

„Indeed, the Syrian régime’s persistent and widespread use of chemical weapons is best understood as part of its overall war strategy of collective punishment of populations in opposition-held areas. Chemical weapons are an integral component of its arsenal of indiscriminate violence, alongside sieges and high-explosive weapons such as “barrel bombs.”“

https://www.gppi.net/2019/02/17/the-logic-of-chemical-weapons-use-in-syria

UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry: Chemical Weapons Attacks (3/2019)

https://www.ohchr.org/SiteCollectionImages/Bodies/HRCouncil/IICISyria/COISyria_CW_12.03.2019_web.jpg

9.3 Sieges: Hunger as a weapon of war

Beside the bombardment of civilian targets with conventional and chemical weapons, sieges and displacements are typical elements of the Assad regime’s warfare. These are punishable as war crimes under international law. All besieged areas have now been taken through the Assad regime’s military advance and a large part of the population displaced expelled to the north of Syria, especially to Idlib. The transfers of fighters and civilians, organized with big bus convoys, were called “evacuations” by the Assad regime and the Russian government. There is consensus in the expert community that these were displacements that are punishable as war crimes.

The United Nations calls this practice of sieges and subsequent displacement “starve and surrender tactics.” Last year, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator said Syrian siege and starvation policies are now “routine and systematic.” The use of hunger as a weapon of war makes it clear that the Syrian government has declared the civilian population in the opposition territories as their “enemies.” According to Pax, punishment as an oppositional population does not cease when the siege ends, instead, it shifts into a new phase. In the case of the Idlib offensive, the Assad regime apparently set fire to grain fields in order to destroy the upcoming crop.

9.3.1 Sources

UN: Starvation by Siege Now ‘Systematic’ in Syria (1/2016) 

https://www.un.org/press/en/2016/sc12203.doc.htm

Amnesty International: We leave or we die: Forced Displacement under Syrias “Reconciliation”-Agreements (11/2017)

https://www.amnestyusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/We-leave-or-we-die_Syria-REPORT.pdf

UN: Independent International Commission of Inquiry: Sieges as a weapon of war: Encircle, starve, surrender, evacuate. (5/2018)

https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/CoISyria/PolicyPaperSieges_29May2018.pdf

Atlantic Council: Breaking Ghouta (9/2018)

http://www.publications.atlanticcouncil.org/breakingghouta/siege-access-aid

Amnesty International: Human Rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Review of 2018 (2/2019)

“Government forces continued to besiege Eastern Ghouta, a predominantly civilian area in Damascus Countryside governorate, until April, when armed opposition groups surrendered following relentless bombing of civilian areas and after reaching three local agreements with armed groups, leading to the evacuation of fighters and displacement of some civilians. During the siege, government forces had deprived around 250,000 residents in Eastern Ghouta of access to medical care, other basic goods and services and humanitarian assistance. Doctors and medical workers were unable to provide adequate medical care to those injured by air strikes, artillery shelling and other attacks, or to those who were ill owing to a lack of surgical supplies, medical equipment and medicine, particularly for the treatment of chronic diseases such as cancer, heart problems and diabetes. The lack of access to food, humanitarian aid and other life-saving necessities led to a rise in acute malnutrition. Government forces continued to restrict access to UN humanitarian agencies and their implementing partners across Syria.”

https://www.ecoi.net/en/file/local/2003684/MDE2499032019ENGLISH.pdf

PAX: Siege Watch: Out of Sight, Out of Mind: the Aftermath of Syria’s Sieges (3/2019)

https://www.paxforpeace.nl/publications/all-publications/siege-watch-final-report

Der Spiegel: Kampfjets gegen Kornfelder – Assads verbrannte Erde (6/2019)

https://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/syrien-krieg-verbrannte-erde-in-idlib-a-1270546.html

9.4 Other parties’ war crimes

War crimes are also being committed by all other conflict parties to the Syrian war, though to a lesser extent than the Assad regime and its allies, largely due to reduced military clout.

Opposition militias repeatedly use arbitrary force against civilians, including shelling and firing rockets at civilian targets. In regime areas, warfare also results in civilian casualties. In the course of the war, opposition militia also used sieges as a tactic of war. The “IS” is accused of committing genocidal massacres and of using mustard gas.

The air strikes of the US-led International Alliance against the IS caused a shockingly high number of civilian casualties (see Chapter 7).

The Turkish army and especially militias allied with Turkey are responsible for numerous war crimes in Northern Syria. The Kurdish SDF and YPG are also guilty of war crimes.

War crimes by opposition actors as well as those of the Assad regime are well documented in the United Nations reports cited above, as well as in the reports by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, SNHR, VDC, SOHR, and other sources cited here. Sources on the victims of the International Coalition can be found in chapter 7.

UN: Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (9/2019)

“After more than seven years of brutal armed conflict, the most salient feature of the hostilities throughout the Syrian Arab Republic remains the wilful non-compliance with international law.” 

https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/CoISyria/A_HRC_42_51.docx

10. Syrische Geflüchtete brauchen weiterhin Schutz

The United Nations, the UNHCR, human rights organizations like Amnesty International all assume that Syrian refugees still need protection. Even the often extremely restrictive decision-making practice of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) has up until now granted Syrian asylum seekers protection status in almost all cases. Proposals that call for deportations to Syria or qualify the need for protection of Syrian refugees are usually based on domestic political motives and not on developments in Syria.

In the medium or long term, however, there is the risk that the domestic political motive to deter refugees from Syria or even to deport may affect the BAMF’s decision-making practice Federal Government’s assessment of the situation in Syria. This would not only have fatal consequences for Syrian refugees, but also foreign policy consequences.

The Assad regime tries to rehabilitate itself through the lever of “refugee return”. Numerous actors are working internationally and also in Germany towards a normalization of the Assad regime. Internationally, rehabilitation of the regime would be a strong signal that crimes against humanity and war crimes remain unpunished.

10.1 UNHCR Protection Considerations

In the latest updated version of its “International Protection Considerations with regard to people fleeing the Syrian Arab Republic, Update V” of November 2017, UNHCR assumes that the “vast majority” of Syrian refugees are entitled to refugee protection.

“In view of the serious and widespread violations of IHL and violations and abuses of human rights law and ongoing armed conflict in many parts of the country, UNHCR continues to characterize the flight of civilians from Syria as a refugee movement, with the vast majority of Syrian asylum-seekers continuing to be in need of international refugee protection, fulfilling the requirements of the refugee definition contained in Article 1A(2) of the 1951 Convention.”

UNHCR Erwägungen 11/2017, S.15

„For many civilians who have fled Syria, the nexus to a 1951 Convention ground will lie in the direct or indirect, real or perceived association with one of the parties to the conflict. A particular feature of the conflict in Syria is that different parties to the conflict frequently impute a political opinion to larger groups of people, including families, tribes, religious or ethnic groups, or whole towns, villages or neighbourhoods, by association. As such, members of a larger entity, without individually being singled out, may become the targets for repercussions by different actors for reason of real or perceived support to another party to the conflict. The perception of sharing a political opinion or affiliation in relation to the conflict is often based on little more than an individual’s physical presence in a particular area (or the fact that he/she originates from a particular area), or his/her ethnic, religious or tribal background. In those situations, the risk of being harmed is serious and real, and in no way diminished by the fact that the person concerned may not be targeted on an individual basis.”

In its “Considerations”, UNHCR has developed risk profiles that apply to many Syrian refugees and, as UNHCR emphasises, should not be understood to be conclusive. If – and only if – it is established that an asylum seeker does not fulfil the risk profiles and otherwise does not fulfil the refugee criteria of the GRC, the extended refugee criteria should be taken into account and subsidiary protection or other forms of protection granted.

No internal flight alternative

UNHCR clearly answers in the negative that Syrian protection seekers can find protection within Syria: “In light of the prevailing conditions in Syria, in particular the multitude and complexity of conflicts, the volatility of the security situation, the reported high level of human rights violations and abuses, and the deeply entrenched suspicions against persons of different backgrounds or origins, UNHCR does not consider it appropriate for states to deny persons from Syria international protection on the basis of an IFA/IRA.” (IFA/IRA = internal flight alternative / internal relocation alternative)

UNHCR warns against voluntary returns and deportations

UNHCR calls on States not to forcibly return Syrians to Syria. Likewise, UNHCR “cannot endorse or support refugees returning from host countries.” The conditions for “a voluntary return to the home country in safety and dignity” are not met.

UNHCR-Erwägungen zum Schutzbedarf von Personen, die aus der Arabischen Republik Syrien fliehen – 5. aktualisierte Fassung (11/2017)

https://www.refworld.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/rwmain/opendocpdf.pdf?reldoc=y&docid=5b0d9f9e4

10.2 UN Commission of Inquiry warns against return

The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria also currently warns that a safe and sustainable return to Syria is still impossible:

“In recently retaken areas — Douma, Dara’a, and northern Homs, for example, Government forces engendered a climate of fear through a campaign of arbitrary arrests and detentions in the aftermath of bombardments,” said Commissioner Hanny Megally. “Upon securing control over these and other areas, civilians began witnessing a flagrant absence of the rule of law and arbitrary use of State power reminiscent of the conditions that sparked this horrific conflict in the first place,” he noted.

UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria: Continued hostilities and lawlessness countrywide render safe and sustainable returns impossible (2/2019)

https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/Pages/NewsDetail.aspx?NewsID=24229&LangID=E

10.3 Current return movements are not an indication of security

Alleged voluntary return movements—especially from Lebanon—are often seen as signs of improvement to the situation in Syria and used as an argument for deportations. In fact, many refugees are forced to return from Lebanon. This is evidenced by several reports.

Refugees Deeply: The Real Reasons Why Syrians Return to Syria (3 / 2018)

https://www.newsdeeply.com/refugees/community/2018/03/06/the-real-reasons-why-syrians-return-to-syria

World Bank: The Mobility of Displaced Syrians: An Economic and Social Analysis (2/2019)

The World Bank study uses UNHCR data to analyse why refugees from Syria’s neighbouring countries return to Syria or what prevents them from doing so. According to the study, the Syrian population’s concern about persecution and the absence of the rule of law plays a central role in the general assessment of potential return. Arbitrary violence by the regime is the most important factor preventing refugees from returning. The absence of hostilities, on the other hand, does not trigger return, although the cessation of violent conflict is conducive to potential return movements. Various other factors, such as economic situation, access to property and land, existence of basic services in the home country also play an important role.

https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/syria/publication/the-mobility-of-displaced-syrians- an-economic-and-social-analysis

Syrian Association for Citizens’ Dignity: UNHCR’s dangerous mirage of safe return to Syria: Debunking a false narrative and irrelevant numbers (3/2019)

https://medium.com/@SACD/unhcrs-dangerous-mirage-of-safe-return-to-syria-debunking-a-false-narrative-deb35a8895ea

Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (Muriel Asseburg): Perspektiven für Flüchtlinge statt Anreize zur Rückkehr nach Syrien (4/2019)

“The increase in the number of journeys of refugees to their homeland should not lead to the assumption that a safe, dignified and permanent return to Syria is now possible. The UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and other aid organisations rightly do not see the conditions for this as given today and for the foreseeable future. This also corresponds to the (German) Federal Government’s assessment of the situation. “

https://www.swp-berlin.org/kurz-gesagt/2019/perspektiven-fuer-fluechtlinge-statt-anreize-zur-rueckkehr-nach-syrien/

HRW: Lebanon: Syrians Summarily Deported from Airport (5/2019)

https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/05/24/lebanon-syrians-summarily-deported-airport

Amnesty International: Why are Returns of Refugees From Libya to Syria Premature? (6/2019)

In a public statement issued in June 2019, Amnesty International clarifies that refugees in Lebanon are under strong pressure to leave for Syria. The return movements from Lebanon should therefore not be regarded as voluntary. Lebanon coordinates the return of refugees with the Assad regime, which repeatedly refuses to allow refugees to return.

Amnesty points out that returnees must undergo security clearing with the intelligence services, who perpetrate crimes against humanity, and that international organisations such as UNHCR do not have unhindered access to returnees.

https://www.ecoi.net/en/file/local/2010318/MDE1804812019ENGLISH.pdf

European Institute of Peace: Refugee return in Syria: Dangers, Security Risks and Information Scarcity (7/2019)

“Nearly onefifth (19 per cent) of refugees surveyed by the UNHCR reported that they do not ever intend to return to Syria; 85 per cent said they do not intend to return in the next 12 months. The survey respondents attributed their reluctance to return to the lack of physical safety—particularly the indiscriminate violence and risk of targeted reprisal. Even among those planning to return in the next 12 months, many conceded that they lacked the required information to make an informed decision. To date, the numbers of returning refugees and IDPs represent a tiny percentage of the 13.2 million Syrians displaced inside and outside the country. The UN is unable to fulfil its usual role of maintaining direct oversight of refugee and IDP returns due to its lack of access to the country. As a result, the current rate of refugee and IDP return to Syria is difficult to gauge accurately.”

http://www.eip.org/sites/default/files/EIP%20Report%20-%20Security%20and%20Refugee%20Return%20in%20Syria%20-%20July.pdf

10.4 Decision-making practice of the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF)

The question of whether Syrian refugees need protection is clearly affirmed by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF). So far, the BAMF decision statistics do not give any reason to discuss deportations to Syria: Syrian asylum seekers subject to enforceable deportation, who can only not be deported due to the deportation stop, hardly exist—the vast majority of Syrians in Germany have a protection status.

However, BAMF decision-making practices are a cause for concern: Increasingly, decisions are being issued that deny the risk of arbitrary or targeted violence, such as torture, claiming that regions under Assad’s rule could be considered “safe”. The basis for this tightening is not the actual situation in Syria, but rather the increasingly refugee-hostile climate in Germany.

Decision practice of the past years

Between 2015 and 2017, 99.9 percent of Syrian refugees seeking protection of their asylum status were granted protection status, compared to 99.8 percent in 2018. From January to the end of May 2019, the so-called “adjusted protection rate” for Syria was 99.9%. This is evident from the BAMF’s Asylum Statistics. Therefore, despite the BAMF’s restrictive tendencies, almost all Syrians still enjoy protection status.

BAMF Asylum Statistics

http://www.bamf.de/SharedDocs/Anlagen/DE/Downloads/Infothek/Statistik/Asyl/hkl-antrags-entscheidungs-bestandsstatistik-kumuliert-2019.html?nn=9271904

https://adoptrevolution.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/KA-19_12797-Ergänzende-Informationen-zur-Asylstatistik-II-2019.pdf

Hardly any revocations

In the case of fundamental changes to the situation in the country of origin, the BAMF can revoke the granted protection status. If other conditions of the protection status are in question, a revocation can be made. With regard to these revocation and withdrawal procedures, up until the end of 2018, it was apparent that the BAMF assumed that Syrians continue to need protection. In 2018, 127,998 revocation proceedings were filed with regard to Syrian refugees with protection rights. These procedures were decided in 2018 in 53,541 cases; in 99.34%, the corresponding protection status was confirmed. In the first half of 2019, the number of revocations was again around one percent.

BAMF Revocation Statistics 2018::

https://www.proasyl.de/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Widerrufsstatistik-2018.pdf

http://dipbt.bundestag.de/dip21/btd/19/132/1913257.pdf

From refugee protection to subsidiary protection

Even if the right to protection has so far been affirmed by the BAMF, from 2016, Syrian protection seekers have increasingly only received subsidiary protection. After the legislature withdrew the right to family reunification from people with subsidiary protection from 2016, the BAMF changed its legal opinion and generally only granted subsidiary protection to Syrians—contrary to the above-mentioned considerations of the UNHCR on the protection needs of Syrian refugees. The change in decision-making practice was purely politically motivated and aimed to prevent family reunification and deter refugees with family from fleeing to Germany.

Grafik: Pro Asyl / Quelle: BAMF

From 2016, the changed decision-making practice led to a flood of lawsuits before the administrative courts. In many cases, BAMF rulings that only provide subsidiary protection for Syrian asylum seekers have been corrected by administrative courts. For Syrian refugees, the success rate in court was 62 percent in 2017. However, in many cases, higher administrative courts ruled that subsidiary protection had been correctly granted by the BAMF.

Supplementary information on asylum statistics 2018 (Ergänzende Informationen zur Asylstatistik für das Jahr 2018) (3/2019)

http://dip21.bundestag.de/dip21/btd/19/087/1908701.pdf

Asyl.net: Rechtsprechungsübersicht: Welcher Schutzstatus ist bei Wehrdienstentziehung in Syrien zu gewähren? (4/2019)

https://www.asyl.net/view/detail/News/rechtsprechung-syrien-wehrdienst

Asyl.net: Erste OVG Entscheidungen zum Schutzstatus von Asylsuchenden aus Syrien veröffentlicht (2/2017) 

https://www.asyl.net/view/detail/News/erste-ovg-entscheidungen-zum-schutzstatus-von-asylsuchenden-aus-syrien-veroeffentlicht/

Guideline update March/April 2019

In March 2019, the previously low number of Syrian protection seekers, to whom the BAMF only granted a legal prohibition of deportation, increased. The tenor of the relevant decisions was that after the advance of the Assad regime in certain areas, there was no more conflict. The persons concerned were only granted a legal prohibition of deportation because of the poor humanitarian situation. The often-documented danger of arbitrary violence by actors loyal to the regime was not discussed in the relevant decisions.

The background of the decisions, it became clear on the basis of parliamentary questions, was a change in the Federal Office’s internal guidelines. The wording of these guidelines is not public. The Office also did not provide any information as to the basis for its new assessment, which obviously blatantly deviated from the Status Report of the Foreign Office from November 2018.

The unsubstantiated guideline update was withdrawn after talks between the Federal Foreign Office and the Federal Ministry of the Interior in April. However, it demonstrates the political will of the BAMF leadership to trivialize the danger of arbitrary violence and persecution by the Assad regime to prevent Syrian refugees from securing a certain long-term stay in Germany. The main intention is probably to reduce the still high number of Syrian asylum seekers through a dissuasive decision practice.

Asyl.net: BAMF ändert Leitsätze zu Syrien und gewährt Abschiebungsverbote statt des subsidiären Schutzes (4/2019)

https://www.asyl.net/view/detail/News/bamf-aendert-leitsaetze-zu-syrien-und-gewaehrt-abschiebungsverbote-statt-des-subsidiaeren-schutzes

Asyl.net: BAMF setzt Entscheidungen über subsidiären Schutz bei syrischen Asylsuchenden aus (4/2019)

https://www.asyl.net/view/detail/News/syrien-aussetzung-entscheidungen

Berlin Hilft: BAMF entschied Asylanträge für Syrien auf eigener Lagebeurteilung ohne Freigabe vom BMI (6/2019)

http://berlin-hilft.com/2019/06/13/bamf-entschied-asylantraege-fuer-syrien-auf-eigener-lagebeurteilung-ohne-freigabe-vom-bmi/