Annual Report: Syria 2011

May 28, 2011

Annual Report: Syria 2011

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  • 'Abdelbaqi Khalaf, a Syrian Kurdish pro-democracy activist detained in September 2008, was reported to have been shackled by his wrists to a wall for eight days, tortured and otherwise ill-treated during more than a year in incommunicado detention. In August 2010 it was reported that he was being tortured to force him to "confess" to killing two members of the security forces. He was held at 'Adra prison.

In May, the UN Committee against Torture expressed concern about "numerous, ongoing and consistent" reports of torture by law enforcement and investigative officials, at their instigation or with their consent, particularly in detention facilities, and criticized the "quasi permanent" status of state of emergency legislation which "allows the suspension of fundamental rights and freedoms". The government did not respond and had not implemented any of the Committee's many recommendations by the end of 2010.

Deaths in custody

Eight deaths in custody possibly as a result of torture were reported; none was known to have been investigated by the authorities.

  • Jalal al-Koubaisi died in Criminal Security custody within days of his arrest on 27 May, apparently for encouraging people to shop at a particular store. He was held incommunicado. On 1 June, his family was told to go to a hospital to collect his body. The body had bruising and other marks indicating that he may have been tortured. No official investigation was known to have been held.


The authorities took no steps to account for thousands of people, mostly Islamists, who disappeared in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and others abducted in Lebanon by Syrian forces or by pro-Syrian Lebanese and Palestinian militias, who then handed them over to Syrian forces in the years before they withdrew from Lebanon in April 2005. The authorities also failed to disclose what occurred at Saydnaya Military Prison in July 2008, when 17 prisoners and five other people were reported to have been killed and since when there has been no information or known contact with 49 prisoners held there at the time. In May, the UN Committee against Torture urged the government to carry out an independent investigation and to "inform the families of those prisoners if their relatives are alive and still held in prison".

  • Nizar Ristnawi, a prisoner of conscience and one of the 49 Saydnaya prisoners whose fate remained unknown, should have been released on 18 April 2009 when his four-year prison term expired. In March 2009, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared his detention to be arbitrary and urged the government "to take the necessary steps to remedy his situation".

Discrimination and violence against women and girls

Women faced discrimination in law and in practice, and high levels of violence, particularly within the family. Laws assigning inferior status to women as compared to men, notably the Personal Status Law governing marriage and its dissolution, inheritance and other matters, remained in force. Such discrimination was reinforced by social customs.

Women and girls were inadequately protected from violence within the family: the Penal Code prescribes lower penalties for murder and other violent crimes committed against women when defence of family "honour" is considered a mitigating factor. At least 16 women, two men and four children under the age of 18 were reported to have been victims of so-called honour killings. In November, a joint study by the government and the UN Population Fund reported that one in three women suffers domestic violence in Syria. The government was reported to be planning to establish a National Family Protection Unit and a National Observatory for Domestic Violence.

Discrimination - Kurdish minority

Kurds, who comprise up to 10 per cent of the population and live mostly in the north-east, continued to experience identity-based discrimination, including restrictions on use of their language and culture. Tens of thousands of Syrian Kurds were effectively stateless, further restricting their access to social and economic rights.