In the context of Article 7 QD, it is necessary that the parties or organisations control the State or a substantial part of the territory of the State. In order to consider that parties or organisations control a region or a larger area within the territory of the State, it should be established that they exercise governmental functions. Furthermore, those parties or organisations have to be willing and able to provide protection against persecution or serious harm as defined in Article 7(2) QD.
Many areas in Syria are influenced by insurgent groups and some groups, in particular HTS, are currently in (contested) control of some territory. However, the Kurdish forces in northeast Syria are the only actor which may be considered to control substantial parts of the territory and could, therefore, be subject to analysis under Article 7 QD.
Northern and Eastern Syria Autonomous Administration
Following the retreat of the GoS forces from the northeast Syria, the predominantly Kurdish inhabited area was left abandoned. This allowed the Kurds to gain greater autonomy in 2014. In January 2014, the PYD adopted the so-called ‘Social Contract’ as a ‘provisional constitution’ for the Autonomous Administration. The Social Contract foresaw a federal, decentralised system by which the Autonomous Region would remain a part of Syria, but with a regulated relationship with the central government in Damascus. The proclamation of a federal system in the Kurdish-controlled areas was rejected by the GoS, other Syrian opposition groups, the US and Turkey [Actors, 3.1.1].
As of February 2020, SDF controlled most of Raqqa and Hasaka governorates, part of Deir Ez-Zor governorate northeast of the Euphrates, and parts of Aleppo governorate around Manbij and Kobane, as well as the area around Tal Rifaat [Security 2020, 1.5.3]. There has not been a governance handover to the GoS following the agreement of October 2019 [Security 2020, 1.5.1].
The Northern and Eastern Syria Autonomous Administration is led by the Syrian Democratic Council (the political wing of the SDF), with the Movement for a Democratic Society (TEV-DEM) as the ruling coalition. The PYD is viewed as the dominant political actor in the Kurdish-controlled areas, where it exercises ultimate control, making decisions for the entire region. PYD’s system of governance is described by sources as authoritarian, and other political parties have been marginalised [Actors, 3.1.3].
The judicial system in the Kurdish-controlled areas consists of courts, legal committees and investigative authorities. Kurdish authorities apply in areas under their control a legal code based on the ‘Social Contract’. It is described as a mix of Syrian criminal and civil law with laws concerning divorce, marriage, weapons ownership, and tax evasion drawn from EU law. However, certain standards for fair trial, such as the prohibition of arbitrary arrests, the right to judicial review and the right to a lawyer, are lacking. The Kurdish justice system is not recognised internationally or by the GoS. In 2015, the YPG established the terrorism court - known as the ‘People’s Court’ - to prosecute ISIL fighters and affiliates. The death penalty has been abolished and the maximum sentence imposed by the terrorism court is a ‘life sentence’. The People’s Court has judges and prosecutors lacking judicial training, who often come from different professional backgrounds. Thousands of Syrian ISIL suspects were reportedly tried in flawed proceedings. Sources also note the lack of due process in detentions, issuing of arrest warrants by security forces affiliated with the PYD rather than prosecutors, and arbitrary arrests [Actors, 3.1.4.].
Protests against the Kurdish forces have been reported for lack of services, discrimination, forcible conscription, and a failure to release prisoners. Corruption, extortion and abuses of power at the hands of SDF personnel were also reported [Actors, 3.3].