Syria human rights record
Syria, Politics, 3/10/2001
A report by the US government on human rights describe the current various conditions in Syria. Here are some excerpts from the report.
Despite the existence of some institutions of democratic government, the political system places virtually absolute authority in the hands of the President.
Although the Parliament is elected every 4 years, the Baath Party is ensured a majority. The Parliament cannot initiate laws, but only assesses and sometimes modifies those proposed by the executive branch.
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but this is not the case in the exceptional (state of emergency) security courts, which are subject to political influence. The regular courts display independence, although political connections and bribery can influence verdicts.
In general all three branches of government are influenced to varying degrees by leaders of the Baath Party, whose primacy in state institutions is mandated by the Constitution.
The powerful role of the security services in government, which extends beyond strictly security matters, stems in part from the state of emergency that has been in place almost continuously since 1963. The Government justifies martial law because of the state of war with Israel and past threats from terrorist groups.
The branches of the security services operate independently of each other and outside the legal system. Their members commit serious human rights abuses.
The still-dominant state role in the economy, a complex bureaucracy, overarching security concerns, endemic corruption, currency restrictions, a lack of modern financial services and communications, and a weak legal system hamper economic growth.
The human rights situation remained poor, and the Government continues to restrict or deny fundamental rights, although there were improvements in some areas.
The Baath Party dominates the political system, as provided for by the Constitution, and citizens do not have the right to change their government. The Government uses its vast powers so effectively that there is no organized political opposition, and there have been very few antiregime manifestations.
Serious abuses include the widespread use of torture in detention; poor prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; prolonged detention without trial; fundamentally unfair trials in the security courts; an inefficient judiciary that suffers from corruption and, at times, political influence; infringement on citizens' privacy rights; denial of freedom of speech and of the press, despite a slight loosening of censorship restrictions; denial of freedom of assembly and association; some limits on freedom of religion; and limits on freedom of movement.
The Government does not officially allow independent domestic human rights groups to exist; however, there were reports that several domestic human rights organizations and civil society groups began meeting regularly during the year.
There were no confirmed reports of politically motivated disappearances.
Despite the existence of constitutional provisions and several Penal Code penalties for abusers, there was credible evidence that security forces continued to use torture. The Government has denied the use of torture and claims that it would prosecute anyone believed guilty of using excessive force or physical abuse.
Facilities for political or national security prisoners generally are worse than those for common criminals. The prison in Palmyra, where many political and national security prisoners have been kept, is widely considered to have the worst conditions. At some prisons, authorities allow visitation, but in other prisons, security officials demand bribes from family members who wish to visit incarcerated relatives.
Arbitrary arrest and detention are problems. The Emergency Law, which authorizes the Government to conduct preventive arrests, overrides Penal Code provisions against arbitrary arrest and detention, including the need to obtain warrants. Officials contend that the Emergency Law is applied only in narrowly defined cases. Nonetheless, in cases involving political or national security offenses, arrests generally are carried out in secret, and suspects may be detained incommunicado for prolonged periods without charge or trial and are denied the right to a judicial determination for the pretrial detention. Some of these practices are prohibited by the state of emergency, but the authorities are not held to these strictures.
There are credible reports that the 600 detainees, including members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic Salvation Party, the Communist Action Party, and some Kurds, are being released incrementally. The Government also closed the Mazzah prison in November, which reportedly held numerous political prisoners and detainees.
A prisoner amnesty that was announced in July 1999 is believed to have benefited some political prisoners and detainees. While the total number of those released is unknown, AI identified six prisoners held for political reasons who were released. Unconfirmed reports suggest that as many as 600 prisoners may have been released.
According to AI, hundreds of persons held for political reasons also were released in 1998. Prior to the 1998-2000 releases, the last significant release of political detainees took place in late 1995, with approximately 2,200 to 3,000 persons believed to have been released.
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but the two exceptional courts dealing with alleged security cases are not independent of executive branch control. The regular court system displays considerable independence in civil cases, although political connections and bribery sometimes influence verdicts.
The judicial system is composed of the civil and criminal courts, military courts, security courts, and religious courts, which adjudicate matters of personal status such as divorce and inheritance. The Court of Cassation is the highest court of appeal. The Supreme Constitutional Court is empowered to rule only on the constitutionality of laws and decrees; it does not hear appeals.
Defendants are presumed innocent; they are allowed to present evidence and to confront their accusers. Trials are public, except for those involving juveniles or sex offenses. Defendants may appeal their verdicts to a provincial appeals court and ultimately to the Court of Cassation.
The government-controlled press increased its coverage of official corruption and governmental inefficiency.
The Government does not interfere with broadcasts from abroad. Satellite dishes have proliferated throughout all regions and in neighborhoods of all social and economic categories, and in July the Government officially approved regulations permitting the importation of satellite receivers.
Internet access and access to e-mail is limited, although efforts are underway to provide greater Internet access, especially to universities and businesses. The Government blocks access to selected Internet sites that contain information deemed politically sensitive or pornographic in nature.
Freedom of assembly does not exist under the law. Citizens may not hold demonstrations unless they obtain permission from the Ministry of Interior.
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice; however, it imposes restrictions in some areas. The only advantage given to a particular religion by the Constitution is the requirement that the President be a Muslim. There is a strict de facto separation of church and state.
The Government does not allow the existence of local human rights groups. One or two human rights groups once operated legally but subsequently were banned by the Government. However, there are credible reports that several domestic human rights organizations and civil society groups met regularly during the year.
The Constitution provides for equal rights and equal opportunity for all citizens. In practice membership in the Baath Party or close familial relations with a prominent party member or government official can be important for economic, social, or educational advancement.
The Constitution provides for equality between men and women and equal pay for equal work.
Moreover, the Government has sought to overcome traditional discriminatory attitudes toward women and encourages women's education. However, the Government has not yet changed personal status, retirement, and social security laws that discriminate against women.
There is no legal discrimination between boys and girls in school or in health care. Education is compulsory for all children, male or female, between the ages of 6 and 12. According to the Syrian Women's Union, about 46 percent of the total number of students through the secondary level are female.
There generally is little societal discrimination or violence against religious minorities, including Jews.
The Government generally permits national and ethnic minorities to conduct traditional, religious, and cultural activities.
Although the Constitution provides for this right, workers are not free to establish unions independent of the Government.
There is no law prohibiting forced or compulsory labor, including that performed by children. There were no reports of forced labor involving children or foreign or domestic workers.
The 1959 Labor Law protects children from exploitation in the workplace. (end of comments).
It should be noted for completeness that this report was produced by a government that has tended to have adversarial foreign and regional policy with Syria, which may effect the emphasis in the report. The report fails to recognize that the Syrian government is in a period of critical transition and is clearly on a path of reform and is beginning to address all issues that are important in such a manner so as not to weaken Syria on the domestic front (balkanization) and externally (considering Israel and the other ill-wishing states) by monitoring the rate of reform and the manner of reform to preserve Syria's very special circumstance and role. Syria plays a disproportional and unacknowledged role to its size and economy on the political front (regional and international), and yet faces internal need for economic and other social reforms. These difficult challenges that require skilled execution are what the Syrian government is facing as it addresses the issues of reform that it recognizes as necessary for its development and modernization.
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