The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) reveals in its report released today that the Counter-Terrorism Court is a political / security court which aims at eliminating those calling for political change for democracy and human rights, noting that at least 10,767 persons still face trial in Counter-Terrorism Court, which has heard nearly 91,000 cases and ordered 3,970 cases of seizure of property.
The 39-page report focuses on detailing the Counter-Terrorism Court’s practices and methods, and giving information about the rulings issued by it, in order to highlight the extent of the brutality for which this court is responsible, noting that its primary objective is to provide the regime with official cover for the liquidation of detained and tortured political dissidents and opponents of the regime. The report also outlines how the Executive Authority / security services now almost completely dominate the Judicial Authority, as well as explaining why the Supreme Judicial Council or the Supreme Constitutional Court did not move to object to the law establishing the Counter-Terrorism Court, or its mafia practices. The report provides 15 accounts from former detainees and detainees still in detention, members of detainees’ families, and individuals forced by Counter-Terrorism Court sentences and rulings to relinquish their property to state ownership.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, Chairman of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, says: “The Syrian regime has taken complete control of the three powers, with all of them being concentrated in the hands of the head of the regime and the security services. This resulted in: constitutional provisions, legislative laws, and irregular courts that violate the most basic standards of international human rights law, with the Syrian regime being keen to maintain a formal façade of legitimacy in order to practice deception and subterfuge. The repercussions of all these actions are clearly embodied in the Counter-Terrorism Court, which is considered to be an additional security branch, whose primary objective is to legalize the crimes of either detaining political dissidents for long sentences of up to 25 to 30 years or subjecting them to extrajudicial killing.”
The report refers to the convergence of the Syrian state’s 2012 constitution and the 1973 constitution, making the Syrian regime one of the most brutal and exclusionary ruling powers globally in regard to the judiciary, in terms of the absolute control over the Supreme Judicial Council, the elimination of the Supreme Constitutional Court, and the establishment of exceptional / irregular courts.
The report briefly outlines the history of the court’s establishment, enabled by Law No. 22 of 2012 on July 25, 2012, and lists its departments. The court issues its decisions under the Counter-Terrorism Law No. 19 issued on July 2, 2012, that is, 23 days before the promulgation of the law establishing the court. The report notes that before the issuance of the Counter-Terrorism Law, the Syrian regime used to try detainees in accordance with the Syrian Penal Code’s articles on crimes against the security of the state, in addition to Articles (304 to 306) related to terrorism. As the report reveals, the Syrian regime has issued several decrees through which it made amendments to the court chambers and the appointment of judges working in them, with the last three of these decrees being: 255 of 2018, 117 of 2019, and 69 of 2020.
The report provides fourteen main reasons that make the Counter-Terrorism Court an additional security branch in the service of the Syrian regime, starting with arbitrary arrest followed by extracting confessions under torture, and also including the referral of reports in which confessions were recorded under torture to the Public Prosecution Service of the Counter-Terrorism Court, noting that principles of trials and evidentiary rules are not applied during any of the stages and procedures of prosecution and trial. The report further notes that the legal texts according to which the court operates include flagrant violations of international human rights law and the most fundamental legal standards, with these articles having been loosely worded so that the court can easily press charges.
As the report notes, the Counter-Terrorism Court tries civilians, military personnel, and juveniles alike, which is against the rules of qualitative jurisdiction. In addition, the President of the Republic has responsibility for appointing the judges at the court (investigation, cassation), in flagrant violation of the most basic criteria of the principle of separation of powers, meaning that the Syrian regime not only completely dominates the Supreme Judicial Council, but, in addition to wielding this absolute power over it, prevents it from appointing court judges, limiting the council’s role to suggesting only. The report reveals that the Chief Prosecutor at the court acts as a conduit between the security branches and the court’s judges, also noting that the investigative judge automatically rejects detainees’ statements that they have been tortured and absolves the security services of any torture charges.
The report states that this court barbarically violates the sacred right of defense, and that the Criminal Court rulings are based on security reports, each of which are a few lines long, with sentences reaching up to execution on charges of participating in a protest or in media, political or human rights activism, with the report further emphasizing the futility of ‘Cassation’ in a court that relies on confessions extracted under torture as the only evidence.
As the report reveals, many detainees have disappeared despite appearing before the court, which does not inquire about their fate. The report also notes that there have been persons re-arrested after their release or after the expiration of their sentences. Lastly, the report notes that the fictitious amnesty decrees do not include the vast majority of those arrested in connection with the popular uprising.
The report notes that it is exceptionally difficult to accurately estimate the number of citizens tried in or released by the Counter-Terrorism Court, or the number of cases that the court has dealt with, because the court does not publish any of its deliberations, judgments, or indictments, and the security branches do not publish any lists of citizens who have been referred to the Counter-Terrorism Court. The report points out that the statistics included were estimated based on many years of the SNHR’s monitoring of cases that the Counter-Terrorism Court has dealt with and through our interviews with families and data from inside central prisons, along with conversations with personnel working there.
As the report reveals, at least 130,758 persons are still detained or forcibly disappeared in the Syrian regime’s detention centers after being arrested between March 2011 and August 2020; of this total, at least 84,371 are forcibly disappeared.
The report notes that at least 10,767 persons, including 896 women and 16 children, have been tried at the Counter-Terrorism Court since its establishment in July 2012 up to October 2020. Detainees tried at the Counter-Terrorism Court are held in the civilian central prisons across Syrian governorates, with the vast majority of these being held in Adra Central Prison.
The report distributes this record according to their status at the court, showing that at least 7,703 persons are still detained on the orders of the Counter-Terrorism Court, most of whom have been referred to the Terrorism Criminal Court, with the period of their detention (since the moment of their arrest until October 2020) ranging between 4-7 years. In addition, at least 3,064 persons have been tried by the Terrorism Criminal Court, with most prison sentences ranging between 10-15-20 years, up to death sentences. The report notes that according to some amnesty decrees, some of these sentences were reduced between two to three years, with the death penalty for some of those sentenced being commuted to imprisonment for terms of between 25-30 years.
The report also documents that nearly 8,027 persons, including 262 women (adult female) and 28 children were released by the Counter-Terrorism Court.
The report estimates that approximately 90,560 cases have been heard by the Counter-Terrorism Court since its establishment until October 2020. This record constitutes the total number of cases referred to the Office of the Public Prosecution of the Counter-Terrorism Court from all governorates, and includes those charged among the total of all those detained, non-detained, arrested or sentenced. The report further notes that a case may be brought against one person or several people together.
The report reveals that the Syrian regime has not only liquidated its political opponents via imprisonment and execution, but has also introduced the Counter-Terrorism Law by which the court imposes provisions aimed at seizing control of the property of political and military opponents, in accordance with Article 11 and Article 12 of its texts. The Syrian regime has also allocated a special law to confiscate the property of its opponents, who participated in the popular uprising against it. As the report notes, under the Counter-Terrorism Law and Decree No. 63 of 2012, the Counter-Terrorism Court, the Ministry of Finance and security services, and other public authorities were given the liberty to issue mass confiscation lists, targeting the property of thousands of those tried in or referred to the court in absentia on terrorism charges, or those against whom the security committees issued decisions requiring seizure of their properties, with lists of their data submitted to the Counter-Terrorism Court to enable it to issue rulings and sentences against them.
Usually, the seizure and confiscation lists include, in addition to the name of the person whose property has been confiscated, the names of his or her family members (father, mother, spouse and children); between the beginning of 2014 and October 2020, the report has documented at least 3,970 cases of seizure targeting the property of detained or forcibly displaced opponents, including at least 57 children.
The report outlines the humiliating conditions facing families and lawyers when attending the Counter-Terrorism Court, and the lack of consideration for detainees’ psychological state during court sessions, noting that the Counter-Terrorism Court’s contempt for political detainees is not limited to the formation and procedures of the court, but also extends to their relatives who wish to assess their conditions. The report points out that the methods used to insult and demean detainees, their families and lawyers are not incidental but carefully thought-out and planned, noting that the least one can say of these methods is that they are devoid of dignity and humanity, with the report stressing that these practices aim to provide leverage for the Syrian regime’s mafia networks that exploit and extort the detainees’ families in exchange for obtaining information or bribes to secure their loved ones’ release. These mafia networks include security personnel, lawyers and officers, who have associates spread among the people standing at the court entrance, where they offer their services for exorbitant fees.
The report emphasizes that the Syrian regime has violated customary international law and Common Article 3 of Geneva Conventions by holding these trials against the background of the internal armed conflict, particularly since the court has not been established according to the law and is not independent, impartial, or just, rather being the direct opposite of all three; depriving a person of the right to a fair trial is listed as a war crime in the Statutes of the International Criminal Court. The report states that the death sentences issued by the Counter-Terrorism Court constitute a war crime under Clause 4 in Article 8 (2) (c) (iv) of the Rome Statute.
The report notes that as in the vast majority of its statements, the Syrian regime uses the word ‘terrorists’ to refer to all those who demand the change of the Syrian regime, in order to slander all dissidents as terrorists, making it easier to justify their torture and murder by regime loyalists, as well as to justify looting dissidents’ property; this is the reason behind naming this court the ‘Counter-Terrorism Court’, suggesting that it prosecutes terrorists, with the Syrian regime developing its own definition of terrorism and its own terrorism legislation, being the only body that uses these criteria and that silences dissident according to this method.
The report recommends that the UN Security Council and the United Nations should find ways and mechanisms to implement Security Council Resolutions 2041, 2042, 2139 and Article 12 of Resolution 2254 regarding detainees and forcibly disappeared persons in Syria, with the report stressing that there will be no solution to the issue of detainees facing trial in this primitive and grotesque way except through a process of political transition towards a system of governance that respects the separation of powers, democracy and human rights, adding that this political transition must take place within a specific timetable that does not exceed a year.
The report calls for issuing a Security Council resolution condemning the political and security trials that some detainees are subjected to in Syria, working to stop crimes against humanity (torture and enforced disappearance) and war crimes (execution) to which the detainees in Syria are exposed, and acting urgently in accordance with Chapter VII.
The report also calls on the Syrian regime’s allies, primarily the Russian regime, to condemn the barbaric courts established by the Syrian regime, and to demand that these be abolished along with all the associated sentences and rulings issued by them, including those legitimizing the looting of property and money, and to put pressure on the Syrian regime to repeal all laws that contradict international human rights law, which utilize overbroad and vague phrases that can be easily applied to political opponents.