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Highlights from HRW 2002 Report on Syria

Syria remained a closed country for international human rights organizations. Amnesty International last had official access in 1997 and Human Rights Watch in 1995; the government did not reply to written requests for access from both organizations.
Highlights from HRW 2002 Report on Syria
Human Rights Watch

Syria's nascent civil society and human rights movement absorbed a severe blow as government action eroded already limited rights to free expression and association.

- In late November 2001, a presidential pardon released 113 political prisoners, some of whom had been imprisoned for up to twenty-two years, including members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, the Iraqi wing of the Ba'ath party, and the Syrian Communist Workers Party.

- Syria secretly gained custody of Mohamed Haydar Zammar, a Syrian-born German national suspected of recruiting three of the September 11 hijackers. According to various press reports, Zammar was clandestinely arrested in Morocco and transferred to Syria with the knowledge of the U.S. government but without notification of German authorities.

- Ten Syria democracy activists who had been arrested in August and September 2001 were tried and sentenced. Two of them were independent members of parliament, the other eight defendants, including two lawyers, two medical doctors, and one engineer. Notably, Syria's government-controlled professional associations did nothing on behalf of these defendants.

- The cases of "disappeared" Syrian citizens, Palestinians, and other foreign nationals, many dating back to the 1980s, remained unresolved. Human Rights Watch received information indicating that the names of some "disappeared" Syrians had recently been entered in civil registers as deceased.

- A Palestinian--who asked Human Rights Watch to withhold his name--was released on December 13, 2001, after having been "disappeared" in Damascus in May 1988. He had been held incommunicado for fourteen years in a prison at a training base, near Damascus, of the Palestinian group Fatah the Intifada, led by Abu Musa (Musa Muhamed Maraghah) and Abu Khaled al-Amleh. He reported that he was held in an underground cell under a false name, tortured, and denied medical treatment, newspapers, and a radio. He reported that at the time of his release at least fifteen additional prisoners languished in solitary confinement at the camp, which was guarded by Syrian forces, and that some of them had "gone insane" as a result of torture.

- Political activists in Lebanon continued to demand the withdrawal of all Syrian forces from the country and organized demonstrations throughout the year, many of which the internal security forces dispersed forcibly.

- Major General Ghazi Kenaan, who headed Syrian military intelligence in Lebanon and was long a symbol of Syrian hegemony there, left his post in October, reportedly to assume other duties in Damascus. Colonel Rustom Ghazali, who long served as Syria's senior military intelligence operative in Beirut, replaced him.

- Syria remained a closed country for international human rights organizations. Amnesty International last had official access in 1997 and Human Rights Watch in 1995; the government did not reply to written requests for access from both organizations.

- The European Union (E.U.) and its member states did not undertake vigorous public advocacy on behalf of beleaguered Syrian advocates of human rights and political reform, despite substantial leverage.

- The E.U. and Syria continued to engage in negotiations, launched in 1998, to conclude an Association Agreement. This trade pact stated that relations between the parties "shall be based on respect of democratic principles and fundamental human rights as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights" However, the sentencing and imprisonment of the ten Syrian activists did not interfere with the negotiations.

- US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld stated on April 1 that Syria, in addition to Iran and Iraq, was "inspiring and financing a culture of political murder and suicide bombing."

- The US State Department charged that Syria continued "to provide safe haven and logistics support to a number of terrorist groups." It named five such groups with offices in Damascus--the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, Palestine Islamic Jihad, Fatah-the-Intifadah, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Hamas--and said that Syria "provided Hizballah, Hamas, PFLP-GC, the PIJ, and other terrorist organizations refuge and basing privileges in Lebanon's Beka'a Valley, under Syrian control."

 http://www.hrw.org/wr2k3/mideast7.html#developments

MORE ON SYRIA:  http://www.hrw.org/mideast/syria.php