Annual Report: Syria 2011

Report
May 28, 2011

Annual Report: Syria 2011

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Head of state: Bashar al-Assad
Head of government: Muhammad Naji al-'Otri
Death penalty: retentionist
Population: 22.5 million
Life expectancy: 74.6 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f): 74.6 years
Adult literacy: 83.6 per cent

The authorities remained intolerant of dissent. Those who criticized the government, including human rights defenders, faced arrest and imprisonment after unfair trials, and bans from travelling abroad. Some were prisoners of conscience. Human rights NGOs and opposition political parties were denied legal authorization. State forces and the police continued to commit torture and other ill-treatment with impunity, and there were at least eight suspicious deaths in custody. The government failed to clarify the fate of 49 prisoners missing since a violent incident in 2008 at Saydnaya Military Prison, and took no steps to account for thousands of victims of enforced disappearances in earlier years. Women were subject to discrimination and gender-based violence; at least 22 people, mostly women, were victims of so-called honour killings. Members of the Kurdish minority continued to be denied equal access to economic, social and cultural rights. At least 17 people were executed, including a woman alleged to be a victim of physical and sexual abuse.

Background

Syria remained under a national state of emergency in force continuously since 1963, which provides the authorities with wide powers of arrest and detention.

In January, a progressive law was adopted to prohibit and criminalize the trafficking of people.

In July, the Ministry of Higher Education prohibited women from wearing the niqab (face-covering veil) in universities.

In September, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food expressed concern that an estimated 2 to 3 million people in Syria were living in "extreme poverty" and urged the government to develop a comprehensive national strategy aimed at realizing the right to adequate food.

In October, arrest warrants were issued against 33 Lebanese and other nationals in response to a case initiated by Jamil al-Sayyed, one of four senior Lebanese officials who were detained without charge or trial in Lebanon for more than three years in connection with the investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in 2005. The four officials had been released by the Lebanese authorities in 2009 after the prosecutor of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) confirmed that the STL was unable to indict them within the legal timeframe.

A new law apparently intended to tighten controls on internet-based media was reported to be under consideration.

Repression of dissent

The authorities continued to use state of emergency powers to punish and silence their critics, including political activists, human rights defenders, bloggers and Kurdish minority rights activists. Critics were arbitrarily arrested and detained for long periods without trial or imprisoned after unfair trials before the Supreme State Security Court (SSSC) or military or criminal courts. Human rights NGOs could not obtain licences to operate, exposing members who are lawyers to disciplinary action by the government-controlled Bar Association. Hundreds of people considered to be dissidents, including former political prisoners and members of their families, were barred from travelling abroad; some were barred from working in the public sector.