It is with pleasure that LDHR shares with you one of our most recent reports, Lacking Legal Basis: An Analysis of Arbitrary Arrest and Detention of Women in Syria, elaborated in close cooperation with Synergy for Justice.
Detention has been used for decades in Syria against critics of the government and other political dissidents. Since 2011, when the popular uprising started, the use of arbitrary arrest and detention has increased significantly and is used to target peaceful activists, political opponents and their relatives. While the Syrian government has been responsible for the majority of those arrested and detained during the last ten years, other groups have also been known to arbitrarily arrest and detain those who do not adhere to their rules, though on a much smaller scale.
LDHR and Synergy have published several reports relating to torture, sexual violence and detention from different perspectives and against different groups, explaining the typology of violence and other inhuman treatment suffered by detainees in Syria. This report builds on that important body of work to shed light on the arbitrary arrest and detention of women and girls and analyze whether their arrest rises to the level of arbitrary arrest, based on international standards and on the existing Syrian legal framework. This report, which is based on the work of medical and legal experts at LDHR and Synergy, further validates the reports about the crimes committed in Syrian detention centres and the violations committed from the time of arrest and throughout the detention period, until their release.
In this report, we present the lived experiences of 80 women who were arbitrarily arrested and detained. Women and girls face extraordinary barriers to disclose and seek access to justice, rooted mainly in gendered stigma and its life-threatening and damaging consequences. Being able to present such a collection is a testament to the bravery of these women and girls, and to their strong demand and need for justice. The patterns and experiences captured demonstrate the widespread and systematic use of arbitrary arrest, torture, cruel and inhuman treatment, sexual violence and gendered persecution against women and girls as a weapon to break political opposition to the Syrian government, and to a much lesser extent, other de facto powers in areas outside regime control.
The report examines 100 arrest cases involving 80 women survivors, some of whom were arrested multiple times, up to six times. The survivors’ age at the time of arrest range between 10 and 65 years old. At least 5 were children (under 18 years old) when detained. They were arrested over the span of several years (2009 to 2017), for a few hours and up to 61 months, in different parts of Syria, by different entities and institutions, and detained in different locations. Their experiences varied, but fundamentally, they are similar in that their arrests were arbitrary and their detention involved some type of physical or mental abuse.
These female survivors were the victims of arbitrary arrest based on several factors including not having the order of arrest issued by a judicial authority, as is required by Syrian laws. The majority was not notified of the reasons of their arrest at the time they were arrested. Furthermore, the entity that arrested them did not have clear authority to arrest. These and other conditions and events surrounding their arrest and time during detention make their deprivation of liberty arbitrary and in violation of Syrian laws, as well as international standards, as stipulated by several specialized human rights organizations and groups. The issues highlighted by this report are further evidence of the violations committed against women and others during all phases of detention in Syria, which have worsened dramatically over the last ten years.
This makes it imperative for the international community to address these issues and take all the necessary measures to continue calling for immediate release of political prisoners and halt all arbitrary arrests. This would also require pressuring the Syrian government and other authorities in areas out of the government control to provide immediate, safe, and unrestricted access to all detention locations in Syria. Additionally, it is crucial that accountability efforts continue and adjudicate more perpetrators to send a stronger message that there will be no impunity for those who commit violations against detainees. This makes it also essential to support all efforts to document these violations and provide the training necessary for those working with survivors, in order to secure admissible evidence on these crimes. Finally, the Syrian legal framework does not fully conform with international standards regarding arrests and detention. Therefore, a review of the Syrian legal framework, including decrees and laws that have been issued over the course of the last ten years in particular, is crucial and should be advanced primarily by Syrian legal professionals and organizations with the assistance and support of international experts.