Syrian human rights organizations face challenges when documenting detainees

اعداد عمر سارة | ترجمة غلوري جابر | تحرير الترجمة Vera Halvorsen 🕔 تم النشر بتاريخ : 15 فبراير، 2018 8:27:58 م تقرير موضوعي سياسيإغاثي وإنساني معتقل

The latest reports by international and local human rights organizations on the issues of detainees in Syria confirm, despite poor statistics, that the Syrian government has arrested tens of thousands of Syrians. Many Syrians are detained or become victim to forced disappearances, torture, or execution in government prisons and detention centers across the country.

The annual Human Rights Watch report from 2017 documents the detention and disappearance of more than 117,000 people since March 2011, and the execution of at least 12,679 people in detention. It also documented cases of excessive force and sexual violence against detainees by officials in the Syrian government.

The report does not address massacres in prisons, although in February 2016, United Nations investigators accused the Syrian government of committing massacres of detainees. Amnesty International, in partnership with Syrian human rights activists, has devoted considerable effort to issue the "Human slaughterhouse" report on Sednaya prison, 30 km north of Damascus. The report was published on Feb. 7, 2017, and speaks of execution by hanging carried out by the Syrian government on 13,000 prisoners between 2011 and 2015, most of whom were civilians opposed to the government. No other humanitarian organizations, nor the UN Human Rights Council, have commented on the government’s use of execution by hanging.

A year earlier, the UNHCR's Global Report from 2016 indicated that dozens of civil society activists, human rights activists, journalists, and humanitarian workers were arbitrarily detained. The government sentenced some of them to anti-terrorist courts, and released others, such as the human rights activist Mazen Darwish and his colleagues Hani al-Zaytani and Hussein Ghurair, who are members of Syrian center of media and freedom of expression. Others are still in exile, such as the lawyer and human rights activist Khalil Maatouq. The programmer and human rights activist Bassel Khartabil was executed under torture in 2015, despite campaigns and the World Report calling for his release. There is information indicating that he was sentenced to death by a military court, however this remains unconfirmed.

Three major human rights centers were established in the first year following the outbreak of the Syrian revolution. The centers, which are described below, continue to this day in their human rights work, creating innovative solutions to new challenges imposed by the documentation of violations, particularly on the issue of detainees.

Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR):

The Syrian Network for Human Rights was founded in June 2011 at the initiative of Fadel Abdul Ghani under the slogan "No justice without accountability." The network acts as an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organization that monitors the daily human rights violations in Syria. They issue monthly and special reports on detainees, documenting cases of arbitrary detention. In January 2018, they documented at least 496 arbitrary detentions, and reported that contrary to previous reports, 70% of all detentions are intended for recruitment.

The network announced in 2017 that the Syrian government is responsible for 87% of all arbitrary arrests in Syria, and the government was also the first party to practice this violation. The network keeps an up-to-date list on their website of the problems they encounter in their work, the most common of which is the fear of the families of detainees to broadcast news of the arrest. Families of detained women are particularly worried that their daughter or wife will be subjected to sexual torture. Therefore, families of women detainees often choose to conduct secret negotiations with government security authorities instead of publicly demanding the release of their family member.

The network also documents extortion. Some families are forced to pay up to thousands of dollars for the release of their loved ones. Secret negotiations and extortion explain the difference between the list of 117 thousand confirmed detainees as opposed to the expected number of 215 thousand detainees.

The network acknowledges that the documentation of detainees is a difficult process concerning the exceptional circumstances in which it is carried out. The most important of these circumstances is the disruption of communication and Internet services, the loss of security, and the high number of militant groups and factions that commit the violations. The network also mentions the "Syrian society's lack of confidence in the ability to document criminals after nearly seven years," and describes it as "the most serious challenges we face."

Violations Documentation Center:

The Violations Documentation Center (VDC) was launched in June 2011, and works towards ensuring the accurate and independent documentation of all types of human rights violations in Syria. VDC aims to establish a basic reference to the violations that can be used in media, and seeks to use the references in "the justice processes that will become essential in the future of Syria," according to their vision and methodology.

VDC documented 66,370 cases of forced detention in Syrian government prisons, and 2,770 cases of abduction. VDC releases monthly reports on the increasing number of detainees and mass executions inside prisons.

VDC relies on three basic stages of documentation, stressing the difficulty of completing all of them because of the sieges imposed by the government and the Islamic State on some cities and towns in Syria, in addition to the risks taken by the activists. VDC also mentions the families of the detainees’ fear to provide information due to security threats.

The Syrian government has arrested 16 of VDC’s employees, including the head of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), Mazen Darwish, in 2011.

Darwish was released in August 2015, after the UN and more than 20 human rights and humanitarian organizations demanded his release.

VDC suffered their biggest loss when their director, Razan Zaytouna, and three other employees were kidnapped on Dec. 9, 2013, by a masked group in the city of Duma, Eastern Damascus.

Syrian Justice and Accountability Center:

During the second meeting of the Friends of the Syrian People group in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2012, the participants called for the need for an independent and multilateral support body. Therefore, a group of human rights activists established the Syrian Justice and Accountability Center (SJAC) to respond to reports on human rights violations and war crimes in Syria.

SJAC opened their first office in the city of Hague, the Netherlands. However, in 2016, they moved the head office to Washington DC. The most prominent human rights activists in SJAC are Mohammed al-Abdullah and Laila al-Oudat.

SJAC’s mission is to ensure the comprehensive documentation of human rights violations in order to store it for later use in the transitional justice and peace-building process. SJAC collects documentation of violations from all available sources and stores it in a secure database. SJAC categorizes the violations according to severity, and follow up their analysis using legal expertise and large quantity data methodology.

SJAC is currently following up on the issue of detainees in Syria, but they emphasize that it is not possible to monitor all places of detention in Syria. Some detention centers are very isolated, and the possibility of the human rights violations becoming known to anyone is not high.

Furthermore, SJAC participated in the preparation of a major directive issued on Mar. 21, 2016, with the collaboration of 20 organizations in the field of documentation and accountability. The directive specified "the need to allow the entry of independent observers and visitors to all prisons and detention centers immediately, as well as the issue of official lists identifying persons currently detained by all parties. This prepares for the start of the inventory of missing persons and the need to establish a clear mechanism to resolve the crisis of detainees and involve human rights organizations in it.” The directive was published during SJAC’s participation in the first round of the Geneva 3 talks.

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اعداد عمر سارة | ترجمة غلوري جابر | تحرير الترجمة Vera Halvorsen 🕔 تم النشر بتاريخ : 15 فبراير، 2018 8:27:58 م تقرير موضوعي سياسيإغاثي وإنساني معتقل
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