Syrian Arab Republic
Head of state Bashar al-Assad
Head of government Wa’el al-Halqi (replaced Omar Ibrahim Ghalawangi)
The internal armed conflict between government forces and the opposition, composed of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and other armed opposition groups, was marked by gross human rights abuses, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Government forces, which were responsible for the vast majority of violations, carried out indiscriminate attacks on residential areas using aircraft, artillery shells, mortars, incendiary weapons and cluster bombs. Together with their support militias, they arrested thousands of people, including children, subjecting many to enforced disappearance. Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees were commonplace; at least 550 were reported to have died in custody, many after torture. Others were extrajudicially executed. Security forces' snipers continued to shoot peaceful anti-government demonstrators and people attending public funerals. Health workers treating the wounded were targeted. A climate of impunity reigned both for past and ongoing gross human rights violations. Armed groups fighting against the government also committed gross abuses, including war crimes. They tortured and/or summarily killed government soldiers and militia members after taking them prisoner and carried out indiscriminate bombings that killed or injured civilians. Hundreds of thousands of people were forced to flee their homes; the UN estimated that over 2 million people were internally displaced and living under conditions of extreme hardship within Syria, and that since the beginning of the conflict almost 600,000 had fled as refugees to neighbouring countries, where conditions were often harsh. It was not possible to confirm whether any death sentences were imposed or if executions were carried out.
The internal armed conflict engulfed much of the country, causing thousands of casualties among the civilian population. Indiscriminate air strikes, artillery and mortar attacks, bombings, extrajudicial executions and summary killings, threats, abductions and hostage-taking became commonplace.
In January, the Arab League suspended its mission to monitor pledges by the Syrian government to withdraw armed forces from cities, halt the violence and release prisoners. Similarly, the UN Supervision Mission in Syria, established in April to monitor and support implementation of a plan by UN and Arab League Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan, ended on 19 August as armed violence continued. The Russian Federation and China twice vetoed resolutions at the UN Security Council aimed at addressing the situation in Syria. Veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi replaced Kofi Annan in August but made no progress towards obtaining an agreed political solution to the conflict by the end of the year.
In February, the government held a referendum on a new Constitution that ended the Ba'ath party's long monopoly on power, but fell short of opposition demands for sweeping political reforms. Parliamentary elections were held 90 days later.
The government continued to attribute many killings of protesters to shadowy “armed gangs” and adopted a new anti-terrorism law in July. This was used to detain and unfairly try political activists and others on vague charges of committing “terrorist acts” before a new Anti-Terrorism Court which began sitting in September.
A bomb attack in the capital Damascus on 18 July, for which the FSA claimed responsibility, killed the Defence Minister and his deputy, the Assistant Vice-President and the Head of the National Security Bureau. Two days later, armed opposition groups launched an offensive that spread the armed conflict to Aleppo, Damascus and elsewhere.