Damascus Harasses Ex-foes in Reconciliation Areas
Syrian intelligence branches are arbitrarily detaining, disappearing, and harassing people in areas retaken from anti-government groups, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday.
The abuse is taking place even when the government has signed reconciliation agreements with the people involved, it added.
Human Rights Watch has documented 11 cases of arbitrary detention and disappearance in Daraa, Eastern Ghouta, and southern Damascus. The government retook these areas from anti-government groups between February and August 2018.
It reported that local organizations have documented at least 500 arrests in these areas since August.
“Active combat has ended in much of Syria, but nothing has changed in the way intelligence branches trample rights of perceived opponents of Assad’s rule,” said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
“Lack of due process, arbitrary arrests, and harassment, even in so-called reconciled areas, speak louder than empty government promises of return, reform, and reconciliation,” she stressed.
In all cases, the people targeted – former armed and political opposition leaders, media activists, aid workers, defectors, and family members of activists and former anti-government fighters – had signed reconciliation agreements with the government.
The organization called on the Syrian government to immediately release all arbitrarily held detainees, or if there are valid grounds for holding them, make those clear.
It also urged Russia to use its influence with its ally Syria to stop arbitrary detention and harassment.
Moscow has played a prominent role in concluding reconciliation agreements between the government and opposition factions in several areas, restoring regime control on such areas starting from the city of Aleppo at the end of 2016.
Russian military police are deployed in several areas in Daraa and Eastern Ghouta.
People have been arrested in their homes and offices, at checkpoints and in the streets, HRW quoted relatives and witnesses as saying.
Relatives and friends of detained people said they were released only after their families paid a bribe and, in some of the cases, asked high level members of the reconciliation committees or Russian military police to intervene.
“Those who tell you there is stability or security in the south are lying,” a humanitarian worker from Daraa told the organization.
“There are still assassinations and arbitrary detentions, and the residents continue to suffer persecution.”
Eight international and Syrian human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and HRW, called on the international community a week ago to pressure all parties of the conflict in Syria to reveal the fate of tens of thousands of enforced and arbitrarily detained people.
The cases of detainees and missing persons are among the most complicated in the Syrian conflict, which since its outbreak in 2011, has left more than 370,000 people dead.
The Human Right Watch’s report was given a boost by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which issued a third report on the violations of security services.
The report provides an overview of the impact of armed conflict and violence on civilians, with attention to gender-related concerns, as well as a number of current and possible future International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and human rights concerns that may arise in relation to it.