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HRW report on Syria’s Supreme State Security Court

Human Rights Watch publicou a semana pasada un informe sobre as violacións dos Direitos Humanos en Siria, centrado nas cometidas arredor do tribunal especial de seguridade do Estado: xuízos sen garantías, condenas por motivos políticos, confesións extraídas baixo tortura… O informe leva por título “Far from Justice: Syria’s Supreme State Security Court”. Copio un extracto da súa introducción:

Forty years after its creation, the Supreme State Security Court (SSSC) remains one of the pillars of repression in Syria. An offspring of the state of emergency that the Syrian authorities declared on March 8, 1963, the government created the SSSC to prosecute those it deemed a threat to state security. In practice, the SSSC’s role has been to prosecute those whom the Syrian authorities do not approve of in trials that lack basic due process guarantees. The SSSC consistently ignores claims by defendants that their confessions were extracted under torture and frequently convicts them on vague and overbroad offenses that essentially criminalize freedom of expression and association.

Since 1992, the SSSC has tried thousands of people. With time, as the government’s perceived enemies have changed, so has the profile of the defendants. During the 1990s, the SSSC’s favorite targets were communists, pan-Arab Nasserites, Iraqi Ba`athists, human rights activists, and Muslim Brotherhood members. Today, most of the defendants are suspected Islamists, often accused of being salafis (adherents to fundamentalist Islamic thought) or wanting to fight in Iraq, Kurdish activists demanding increased autonomy and cultural recognition, and independent activists who criticize the regime.

Amongst those recently tried by the SSSC are bloggers who posted articles critical of the authorities, a Kurdish university student who filmed the violent dispersal by the police of a peaceful demonstration of Kurdish children in 2003, and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood who returned from exile to Syria.

In preparing this report, Human Rights Watch compiled information about 237 cases, representing all of those known to have been decided by the SSSC between January 2007 and June 2008 (Annex I lists these cases). The SSSC suspended its operations in July 2008, following a riot that broke out in Sednaya prison, located about 30 kilometers north of Damascus, controlled by the military which holds the vast majority of the SSSC defendants. The suspension of trials is likely linked to the government’s total blackout on information on the fate of detainees in Sednaya prison.

Since the SSSC neither grants access to independent observers nor publishes its proceedings, we collected our information from those who had access to the SSSC: defendants who have finished serving their sentence, defense lawyers, and foreign diplomats who gained access to the SSSC courtroom starting in 2004.

The cumulative evidence paints a bleak picture. Between January 2007 and June 2008, at least 33 defendants alleged before the SSSC that Syrian security services tortured them to extract their confessions. To Human Rights Watch’s knowledge, the court took no steps to investigate these allegations. The court sentenced at least 153 defendants on the basis of vague or overbroad charges that criminalize freedom of expression and association. It sentenced at least 10 defendants for posting information online that was critical of the authorities. Prosecutors referred at least eight defendants to the SSSC because they “insulted the Syrian president.” The court also sentenced at least 16 Kurdish activists for demanding increased autonomy and cultural recognition.

Created as an exceptional court, the SSSC exists outside the ordinary criminal justice system and is accountable only to the Minister of Interior, who acts as the delegated martial law governor. By decree, it is exempt from the rules of criminal procedure that apply in Syria’s criminal courts. Its non-compliance with international human rights standards is thus not surprising.

In the cases investigated by Human Rights Watch, we found that security forces detain defendants scheduled to appear before the SSSC for long periods of time -usually for months- before informing them of the charges against them. These waiting periods are a violation of a defendant’s right to be informed promptly of the charges against him and right to a speedy trial. Even after the trial starts, Human Rights Watch’s research shows that half the cases take at least three years to conclude even though most trials usually consist of four short sessions before the SSSC, often less than 30 minutes long each.

Lawyers play a largely ceremonial role during trial. In cases reviewed by Human Rights Watch, the court and the security services almost always deny them access to their clients prior to trial, and trial proceedings begin before lawyers have had an opportunity to see their client’s file. Even after a trial begins, defendants have only very brief access to their lawyer, typically for a few minutes, and usually immediately before or after a trial session. The court also denies lawyers the opportunity to engage in oral defense on behalf of their clients, allowing them to submit only written defense statements.

Defendants have no right to appeal their verdict, a violation of Article 14(5) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Syria is a state party. By decree, SSSC sentences are final but not enforceable until the President of the Republic ratifies them. In practice, however, the Minister of Interior ratifies the verdicts. […]

4 Marzo 2009 - Posted by | Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, Politics, Syria

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