Human rights abuses in Syria have continued amid ongoing international efforts to implement a ceasefire in talks brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran, and parallel talks sponsored by the United Nations. As negotiations proceed toward achieving a peace and transition agreement, participants in the talks should prioritize human rights issues, including detainee rights.
Since the beginning of the uprising in Syria, security forces have arbitrarily arrested, unlawfully detained, forcibly disappeared, ill-treated, tortured, and killed thousands of people, using an extensive network of detention facilities throughout the country. Those arrested include peaceful protesters, human rights defenders, and activists involved in organizing, filming, and reporting on protests, as well as journalists, aid providers, lawyers, and doctors.
A large number of peaceful protesters, and political and humanitarian activists remain in incommunicado detention while others have faced trial, some of them before military and counterterrorism courts, for exercising their rights. Armed opposition groups, mainly in opposition-held territory in northern Syria, have also arbitrarily detained people, including journalists, aid workers, and activists who have criticized them.
Any transition agreement should include a commitment to release political detainees, journalists, aid workers, and human rights activists in their custody and to grant independent monitors access to detention facilities and to all those deprived of their liberty.
The parties should also make a commitment to repeal or reform laws that criminalize the exercise of the rights to peaceful expression, assembly, and association. An explicit commitment should be made to not detain or prosecute aid workers for doing their jobs.
The parties should also commit to enshrining in Syrian law all the basic protections and safeguards for detainees guaranteed by international law.
Any transitional plan also needs to include a commitment to establish an independent vetting mechanism for current and potential senior security officials. Wherever there is sufficient admissible evidence of responsibility for international crimes, suspects should be prosecuted in fair trials.
Any lasting peace will require that the thousands that continue to suffer from unlawful detention practices are released, and that there is justice for the crimes that were perpetrated against them.