BEIRUT: Damascus has carried out a wave of arbitrary arrests against former activists in opposition areas that surrendered under deals brokered by its ally Moscow, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.
The so-called “reconciliation” agreements that restored government control over swathes of central and southern Syria last year were heavily criticized from the start because they were signed under the pressure of military blockade and intense air and artillery bombardment.
The regime offered amnesty to all who agreed to end their political activities.
But thousands of residents, particularly former fighters and their families, chose to be evacuated to remaining opposition-held territory rather than accept renewed rule by Bashar Assad’s regime.
Human Rights Watch said its research showed that former government critics and opposition activists who signed up for “reconciliation” had paid heavily for their decision.
It said it had documented 11 cases of arbitrary detention and disappearance in three areas retaken by regime forces last year — the southern province of Daraa, the Eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus, and southern neighborhoods of the capital.
Syrian organizations had documented at least 500 arrests in the three areas since August, it added.
“Active combat has ended in much of Syria, but nothing has changed in the way intelligence branches trample rights of perceived opponents of Assad’s rule,” said HRW’s acting Middle East director, Lama Fakih.
Active combat has ended in much of Syria, but nothing has changed in the way intelligence branches trample rights of perceived opponents of Assad’s rule.
Lama Fakih, Top rights activist
“Lack of due process, arbitrary arrests, and harassment, even in so-called reconciled areas, speak louder than empty government promises of return, reform and reconciliation.”
HRW said those targeted included family members, as well former opposition activists and fighters.
“In all cases, the people targeted ... had signed reconciliation agreements with the government,” it said.
The UN on Tuesday said that, between 26 July 2018 and 31 March 2019, at least 380 people were arrested or detained in Daraa province alone.
At least 230 of these were subjected to enforced disappearances, while the rest were released after a few days in detention.
“Many families in Daraa continue to have limited or no information about their missing or detained relatives,” said Marta Hurtado, spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Assad’s forces secured full control of Daraa province from fighters in July, in a massive blow to the country’s ill-fated revolt that erupted in the southern city.