letter to the German Minister
The Syrian Center for Legal Studies and Research, in cooperation and participation of a number of Syrian organizations in Germany, sent a letter to the German Minister of Interior on the legal situation and the dangers facing the Syrians in Syria and outside Syria in the event of their return,
Attach the text of the letter:
Interior Minister of the Federal Republic of Germany
There is increasing debate about studies that claim that the war in Syria has ended and that the issue of voluntary or compulsory return of Syrian refugees is now being discussed. In this letter, we try to clarify an important issue – Syrians did not leave their country, their homes and everything behind only to escape an armed conflict, but rather to escape the war waged by the regime against the Syrian people who aspire to freedom. The Assad regime has weaponized every means available to it. The most important are Syrian laws which give it absolute, undisputed and unceasing authority and full protection from accountability, even when using arrest, humiliation, siege and deprivation of the most basic conditions of life. Another of these means is the military attack against civilians using all available military force, including internationally banned chemical weapons.
The Syrian people fled, they sought refuge and protection from undeterred criminals. As long as these criminals remain in power, and as long as there is no deterrent from committing new crimes, no Syrian will think of returning. Upon his voluntary or forced return to Syria, a Syrian refugee faces a large number of practical or legal risks that threaten his life and freedom. In areas not controlled by the Syrian regime, there is a possibility of death by missiles, explosive barrels, rockets, chemical weapons, the aerial bombardments of Syrian, Russian or the International Anti-ISIS Coalition. There are also threats from attacks, prosecution, imprisonment and possibly death by extremist militant organizations that control vast areas of Syria, such as ISIS, HTS or the People’s Protection Units (PYD) and other armed groups. There are hundreds of cases of arrests, kidnappings and killings in the prisons of these armed groups.
Upon return, many Syrians are faced with the lack of the most basic requirements, such as water, food, healthcare and shelter. Also, they face the imposition of values that are not related to the history of the Syrian people, such as the forced recruitment of children and girls by these groups. This means that the return of refugees in this situation would only lead to more Syrians engaging with militias or armed groups because it is the only way to survive. The armed conflict will get more violent and cause more casualties.
In areas under Assad regime control or its allied militias, there are lists of wanted people issued by the Syrian security forces. These lists include anyone who have expressed an opinion against the Syrian regime or criticized its actions or protested against its practices. Thousands of cases of oppositional activists have been documented in areas that have reconciled with the regime and returned to its authority: Duma, Darayya, Daraa, Homs and other areas. We have documented dozens of killings under torture, in addition to dozens of assassinations of former activists that were supposedly under Russian security guarantees. What will happen to the refugees who return without any guarantee?
Recently, we have documented the cases of several dozen refugees who have returned from Lebanon after having their situation settled with the regime. Other persons returned from Europe and Germany in particular. They were arrested and are still missing. In total, more than 100,000 detainees have been forcibly disappeared in the Assad regime’s detention centres. We estimate that more than 50,000 detainees have been killed in detention. Recently, the regime has begun leaking lists of civil records showing the death of some of them.
Returning Syrians could also be forced to fight on the fronts without any training under the Compulsory Recruitment Act. Here, they must forcibly engage in a war against their own people, destroy their cities and submit to the control of foreign militias or local gangs. They could die at the front lines, by indiscriminate explosions or bombings that target civilians everywhere. Refugees returning from Germany face an additional threat. After the issuance of arrest warrants by the German Federal Prosecutor against high ranking officials in Syria, many refugees are now considered as witnesses to crimes committed in Syria. This may lead to such witnesses being liquidated by Syrian officials.
In addition, there are many legal risks that lead refugees to prison as a result of leaving Syria and seeking asylum. These laws include:
– Law of Compulsory Military Service issued by Legislative Decree 30 of 2007
– Military Penal Code promulgated by Decree No. 61 of 1950
Any Syrian who deserts military service or escapes from it faces the punishment of death in accordance with the law. Since all male refugees between the ages 18 – 52 are considered to have fled military service, they can all be subject to arrest upon arrival in Syria. There, they can be referred to the military court or terrorism court for desertion, apart from other reasons, such as illegal departure from the country, punishable by imprisonment of three months and a fine. This will apply only if the person in question is not wanted by one the many security bodies for his opposition to the regime or his submission of statements when applying for asylum that are considered by the Syrian regime. Examples, such as being threatened or persecuted, or fearing for his life in Syria.
• Decree No. 55 of 2011 grants the security and police authorities the right to detain a detainee for sixty days without referring him to any court. Detainees are not allowed to communicate with a lawyer because lawyers are prevented from meeting with clients at the police and security departments.
• Article 117 of the Constitution protects the President of the Republic from any legal prosecution for any crime committed except for the crime of treason.
The detainee is routinely exposed to various types of torture. Reports of international and non-governmental organizations have documented that thirteen thousand detainees – all documented by name – have died under torture or inhumane conditions in Syrian detention centers. Death among new detainees is thus to be expected.
• Moreover, Syrian citizen is not entitled to legally charge employees of the security sector for any crimes committed against them before obtaining approval of their respective commander as stipulated in Article 16 of Legislative Decree No. 14 / 1969, which established the State Security Administration. Nor can anyone member of the army or police be prosecuted for crimes which they commit before obtaining the consent of the Minister of Defence, according to Article 19 of the Military Penal Code mentioned above. According to Decree No. 55 issued by Bashar al-Assad in 2001, the terms of prosecuting soldiers and intelligence members also apply to policemen. In practice, the President, Syrian security apparatus, the army, and the police thus enjoy full immunity from prosecution for any crime they commit. During all the violent events in the past 8 years, not one judicial trial was heard for crimes committed in Syria.
• The Syrian judiciary is not an independent authority, but completely subject to the executive branch, in accordance with Decree No. 98 of 1961 which established the Supreme Judicial Council. Here, Article 65 states that the Higher Judicial Council shall be composed of seven members, headed by the President of the Republic, in addition to the Minister of Justice, the President of the Court of Cassation, the two most senior judges, the Deputy Minister of Justice, the Chairman of the Judicial Inspection Panel and the Prosecutor General. Effectively, this means that four members belong to the executive branch – the court is subject to their authority. The law also brings together prosecutors and judges who are under the direct authority of the Minister of Justice. Therefore, it is impossible to provide for the minimum conditions needed for a fair trial, provided someone will even make it to court alive.
There is also the law establishing a court terrorism, which is composed of civilian and military investigating judges. There is no legal channel to challenge the decisions of such investigative judges. The articles against terrorism and its financing are ambiguous, unclear and unspecific, giving full jurisdiction to the judge to interpret any act as terrorism without any chance for review or appeal. Recently,
• legislative decree No. 10 of 2018 granted Syrian authorities the right to confiscate the property of displaced persons and refugees. In addition, the security apparatus issued long lists of Syrian dissidents abroad in order to confiscate their properties and/or to sentence them to death. Today, Syrians are still threatened with displacement and deportation. Due to the scorched earth policy of the regime and Russia in Idlib Province, up to four million persons could be forced to flee and leave their land.
• Articles 285-288 of the Syrian Penal Code provide for up to 15 years’ imprisonment for those who broadcast false reports that weaken national sentiment or weaken the nation’s psyche, and any writing or opinion that can be considered by the regime. The regime has already imprisoned thousands of political opponents and activists’ Human rights based on these legal articles.
• Statements were issued from high levels as military and security leaders and the Minister of the Interior threatening refugees upon their return
The following signatories of this letter consider the return of Syrian refugees to Syria to be a death sentence. The attempt to compel the Syrian refugees to return by any means, whether by withholding residence papers or by tempting them financially, constitutes a violation of international humanitarian law and international human rights law. In addition, we consider forcing Syrians to visit the Syrian embassy to renew their passports and pay huge sums to be a form of financing the ongoing crimes committed by the Syrian regime. In turn, this means more refugees for you.
Of course, we did not mention in this paper the unsafe conditions of children in terms of education, basic needs of the child or health care, as well as the risks and difficulties faced by women in insecure, military environments, all kinds of discrimination against women, The elderly, people with special needs and disabilities in places where the lowest human rights are not respected. (This is beyond our competence, but we wanted to mention).
We affirm that any return of Syrian refugees must be preceded by the following conditions:
1. Full cessation of all combat operations in Syria
2. An investigation into the fate of all detainees and those forcibly disappeared
3. Exit of all militias and external forces from Syria
4. Withdrawal of arms from all internal militias and controlling security
5. The existence of a fully independent, just and impartial judiciary
6. Accountability of all those responsible for the crimes committed in Syria, as refugee would be returning to the very criminals who killed their families and destroyed and looted their houses and property.
7. Complete legal reform starting with the Constitution, including an end to legal immunity for the security forces, the army and the police.
8. Scrapping Decree No. 10 of 2018 and its policy of disowning refugees.
9. Ending extra-legal arrests
10. Existence of an international mechanism to monitor refugee refugees and to ensure the safety of Syrians in their homeland.
Syrian Centre for Legal Studies and Research
Federation of Syrian Organizations in Germany (23) Organization
Syrian feminist lobby
katrin Langensiepen (member of the European Parliament for the Green Party)