Last update: February 2023
In Syria, a wide range of different groups and individuals can be considered as actors of persecution or serious harm. This includes a multitude of internal and international actors pursuing their own interests and goals. Their reported areas of control are presented on the map below (Figure 1).
Figure 1. © UN Geospatial, Approximate areas of influence as of June 2022.
The following subsections highlight the main actors of persecution or serious harm in Syria in a non-exhaustive manner.
The Syrian State actors include members of security forces and other authorities, such as local councils or other local officials, e.g. mukhtars. It should also be noted that the distinction between official State forces and non-State forces is not always clear. The Syrian State authorities, in particular the Syrian Armed Forces including the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), the intelligence services and police force, have committed a wide range of grave human rights violations since the beginning of the conflict.
A number of armed groups are associated with the Syrian State and operate alongside the regular armed forces. There are local militias and non-Syrian militias made up of foreign fighters and mainly backed by Iran.
The National Defence Forces (NDF) are a complex umbrella network, which was set up with Iran’s assistance and consists of many different militias (e.g. members of local communities, Shia and Alawite individuals, members of criminal gangs of Alawites linked with the Assad family, Sunnis from Damascus and Aleppo, etc.). They have become auxiliary security institutions and are operating their own prisons and investigation commissions.
Other examples of Syrian pro-government militias include the Tiger Forces serving as the army of the Air Force Intelligence and militias of wealthy and powerful Alawite businessmen with close links to the Assad government, such as the al-Bustan militias and Suquor al Sahara.
Shia foreign fighters were mobilised by Iran and sent to fight on the side of the Assad government. The most prominent groups include the Lebanese Hezbollah, the Afghan Fatemiyoun Brigade, the Pakistan Zeinabiyoun Brigade, as well as various Iraqi Shia militias that are members of the Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Forces, and fighters from Yemen.
Palestinian militias, such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command, the SAA-affiliated Palestinian Liberation Army, and the Liwa al-Quds also supported the government military in the conflict.Syrian State actors including associated armed groups have committed a wide range of human rights violations since the beginning of the conflict. During the reporting period, GoS forces continued to arbitrarily detain people, with detention leading to torture, ill-treatment, and in some instances to death of detainees. Besides arbitrary detentions and enforced disappearances, the GoS was reported to use torture and sexual violence as a method of control, intimidation and extortion.
Syrian State actors including associated armed groups have committed a wide range of human rights violations since the beginning of the conflict. During the reporting period, GoS forces continued to arbitrarily detain people, with detention leading to torture, ill-treatment, and in some instances to death of detainees. Besides arbitrary detentions and enforced disappearances, the GoS was reported to use torture and sexual violence as a method of control, intimidation and extortion.
The SDF are the armed force of the Autonomous Administration of North and East of Syria (AANES). They are militarily and financially supported by the US to fight ISIL in northeast Syria. The SDF is a mixed force, with Arab, Kurds and fighters of other minorities within its ranks. In comparison, the YPG, which leads the SDF, only features Kurdish fighters from Syria, Iraq, Türkiye and Iran, and is linked to the PKK.
The Asayish are the Kurdish internal security forces and fulfil various security roles that range from police to counterterrorism. The Asayish reportedly has command centres in each canton of the Kurdish-controlled region, some of which operate independently from each other. There are also 30 000 police officers operating in Kurdish-controlled areas in northeast Syria.
During the reporting period, the SDF engaged in extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and unlawful detention of civilians. Torture, which led to death, was reported to continue to take place in SDF detention facilities. Forced recruitment of children continued into late 2021/early 2022, including through kidnappings.
Syrian National Army (SNA)
The SNA is a Turkish-backed armed umbrella group, and the second largest opposition coalition in Syria after HTS. In 2019, the SNA incorporated the National Liberation Front (NLF), also a Turkish-backed alliance of opposition-armed groups using the brand of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), into its ranks. The SNA lacked the unified central command of a conventional army. In order to consolidate factions, a variety of mergers into bigger formations were conducted throughout 2021. By January 2022, a single formation called the Azm Operations Room, incorporated most of the major SNA groups.
During the reporting period, abuses by the SNA continued against civilians, including arbitrary detention, abduction, torture, killings and other ill-treatment. Looting, theft, occupation and expropriation of predominately Kurdish properties by SNA were also reported.
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham or Organisation for the Liberation of the Levant (HTS)
The HTS is a coalition of Islamist Sunni anti-government armed groups. It is comprised of several armed factions, including Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (also known as Jabhat al-Nusrah and previously as the Al-Nusrah Front). HTS is described as the dominant and military superior armed group in the Idlib de-escalation area and maintains its power through the Syrian Salvation Government.
During the reporting period, HTS continued to engage in extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and unlawful detention of civilians, enforced disappearances, confiscation of property, harassment and intimidation against women.
A number of other anti-GoS armed groups are also present in the Idlib area.
ISIL, also known as ISIS, IS and Daesh, was originally created by the wing of Al Qaeda in Iraq and smaller Iraqi Sunni insurgent groups. It is an UN- and EU-designated terrorist organisation aiming to establish a global Islamic caliphate and fostering violent conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims. ISIL’s territorial control and governance in Syria ceased to exist in March 2019. In 2022, the group mainly operated in Badia and across the northern and eastern governorates.
In 2021 and 2022, targeted assassinations, kidnappings, extortions and intimidations by ISIL against civilians, GoS and SDF have continued to be reported.
Human rights violations, which could amount to persecution or serious harm, are also committed by other non-State actors, such as family members or criminal gangs. Some examples include domestic violence and ‘honour’ violence by family members, as well as other forms of gender-based violence including sexual violence, violence against LGBTIQ individuals, etc.