Syria: Activists Arrested, Held Despite Pledge to Annan
Human Rights Watch
13 May 2012
Syrian security forces are arbitrarily arresting and holding peaceful activists incommunicado, despite the government’s commitment under Kofi Annan’s six point plan to release everyone who has been arbitrarily detained. People being arrested include peaceful protesters and activists involved in organizing, filming, and reporting on protests and humanitarian assistance providers and doctors, Human Rights Watch said after interviewing dozens of activists, witnesses, and family members.
Human Rights Watch called on the government to order security forces to stop detaining peaceful activists and aid providers. The United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), tasked with monitoring the implementation of the Annan plan, should insist on repeat visits of all detention facilities and should make the release of peaceful activists a priority.
Under the Annan plan, the Syrian government committed to “intensify[ing] the pace and scale of release of arbitrarily detained persons, including especially vulnerable categories of persons, and persons involved in peaceful political activities…” and to “respect freedom of association and the right to demonstrate peacefully as legally guaranteed.”
Since the Syrian government promised to carry out the Annan plan on March 25, 2012, Human Rights Watch has received numerous reports of detentions of peaceful protesters and activists involved in organizing protests, filming them, or providing humanitarian assistance to the displaced. The Violations Documentation Center (VDC), a Syrian monitoring group has reported that security forces have detained at least 780 people since the government committed to the plan.
SANA, Syrian state media, reported on May 6, 2012, that 265 men who had been detained in connection with protests but “whose hands are clear of the Syrian blood” had been released. SANA did not publish the names of those released. A large number of political activists remain in incommunicado detention, some for almost a year, while others are facing trial for exercising their right to demonstrate peacefully.
In some instances activists reported that security forces detained their family members, including children, to pressure the activists to turn themselves in.
Family members of detainees have raised concerns to Human Rights Watch about the health of their relatives in detention, particularly elderly detainees with chronic medical conditions.
Human Rights Watch called on the U.N. Security Council to ensure that the Syrian government fully cooperates with UNSMIS to implement the six-point plan, including the release of arbitrarily detained people.
The UN mission should deploy professional human rights monitors who are trained to organize random and regular visits to all places of detention, including suspected secret detention centers, Human Rights Watch said. These experts should be in a position to recognize people who are arbitrarily detained, protect interviewees from retaliation, ensure the confidentiality and safekeeping of interviews, and interview women who have been sexually abused and children who have been tortured.
“The international community needs to put muscle behind its rhetoric, and impose targeted sanctions on the Assad government until it abides by all its commitments under the Annan plan, including the release of the thousands of prisoners held merely for their peaceful activism,” Whitson said.
Further reading includes the following sections:
• Incommunicado Detention and Enforced Disappearances: Some of the worst human rights abuses in Syria take place outside of public view, behind the cell walls of detention facilities, where thousands of Syrians, including many women and children, are arbitrarily detained and often brutally tortured. (…)
• Activists on Trial: In other cases, activists have been charged and are on trial for peaceful activities, such as allegedly reporting or distributing information in opposition to the government. (…)
• Concerns about Health in Detention and Targeting of Family Members: A number of detainees’ relatives have raised concerns regarding the ability of their family members to obtain adequate medical treatment in detention. (…)
Read the full press release.