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Last update: February 2023

Government forces harshly repressed the anti-government protests that erupted in 2011 and the ensuing military uprising. Throughout the conflict, the GoS has used systematic torture, unlawful detentions and disappearances, starvation and medical deprivation sieges, as well as mass casualty weapons, including chemical weapons, against civilians. Civilians perceived to be either supporting the opposition or insufficiently loyal to GoS were arbitrarily arrested and detained. In particular, individuals perceived to be opposition supporters were most likely to be detained arbitrarily by government forces and their allied militias. [Targeting 2022, 1, p. 17, 1.2.3, p. 26]

GoS is reported to view as political dissent the activities of wide categories of individuals, including peaceful protesters, activists and critics of the government, professionals such as humanitarian workers, doctors, lawyers, journalists, bloggers and online activists, as well as draft evaders and defected soldiers. Individuals living in opposition-controlled areas, those in recaptured areas, returnees from abroad, relatives of suspected armed groups members and those who have been in contact with family members or friends residing in opposition-controlled areas, have also been targeted. [Targeting 2022, 1, p. 17; Targeting 2020, 1, pp. 13‑14]

Security services continue to abuse the rights of perceived opponents of the government. The priority of GoS is to eliminate remaining structures of resistance and discourage future rebellion, leading to arrests of civilians as well as former opposition fighters in reconciled areas taken by GoS. [Targeting 2022, 1.2.1, p. 23]

Syrians ended up wanted by the government and arbitrarily detained for a wide variety of reasons and sometimes for no reason at all. A checkpoint officer’s mood, as well as having a similar name with a person that in fact opposes the government, could lead to an arrest. [Targeting 2022, 1.1.3, p. 22]

The GoS has at its disposal an extensive range of tools for intelligence gathering, surveillance and for punishing anyone perceived to be a dissident or insufficiently loyal to it. Among those tools, the authorities reportedly kept extensive lists of persons wanted for arrest or questioning. These lists included the names of individuals suspected of involvement in perceived opposition activities such as participation in protests, working for NGOs, human rights activists and local council officials in areas controlled by the opposition, and men wanted for military service. Persons on wanted lists were vulnerable to being arrested or forcibly disappeared ‘at official ports of entry and exit, such as land border crossings and airports, as well as checkpoints and government offices on regime-held territory’. [Targeting 2022, 1.1, p. 16]

More than 100 000 people have been detained, abducted or gone missing during Syria’s civil war, largely at the hands of the GoS. GoS forces arrested civilians perceived to be supporting the opposition or deemed insufficiently loyal to the government, including peaceful demonstrators, human rights activists, residents in opposition-held areas and relatives of suspected armed opposition fighters. Thousands of detainees are being held without trial, some since the outbreak of the conflict in 2011. Intelligence services were reported to commit systematic rights abuses. They created a wide network of informants and used phone surveillance to ensure that the government kept a close watch of the most mundane of Syrians’ everyday life and to restrict criticism of Assad and his government. [Targeting 2020, 1.1.1, p. 18]

On 30 April 2022 the president issued Legislative Decree No 7 which included a general amnesty for terrorist crimes. The amnesty did not cover persons charged under other laws, political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. Some 539 persons have been released. However, by May 2022, 132 000 Syrians were still under arrest or forcibly disappeared. [Targeting 2022, 1.1.1, pp. 19-20; Security 2022, 1.4.1, p. 29]

On 28 March 2022 GoS passed a law criminalising torture, while during the first half of 2022, 90 deaths by torture at the hands of GoS and affiliated partners were recorded [Security 2022, 1.4.1, p. 28; Targeting 2022, 1.1.2, p. 21]. Government forces, especially the intelligence branches, are reported to torture perceived opponents. Most of the victims were men between the ages of 18 and 60, but torture of women and children was also reported. Extrajudicial executions by the intelligence branches were also reported. The massive and systematised torture and killing of detainees in Syria’s state prisons over the course of the conflict is widely documented [Targeting 2020, 1.1.2, p. 16, 1.1.4, p. 18]. Civilians perceived to be opposed to the government claimed to have been denied access to medical treatment in Damascus. [Damascus 2022, 3.6.1, p. 52].