Syria is a republic under the authoritarian presidential regime of Bashar al-Asad. The constitution mandates the primacy of the Ba'ath party leaders in state institutions and the parliament. There were significant limitations on citizens' right to change their government. President al-Asad and party leaders, supported by various security services, dominate all three branches of government. The country's human rights record worsened in 2007, and members of the security forces committed serious human rights abuses. The government employed the security services to increase already significant restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association amidst an atmosphere of government corruption and a lack of transparency. The government sentenced to prison several high-profile members of the human rights community. The government discriminated against minority groups, particularly the Kurds. Members of the security forces committed arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life and tortured and physically abused prisoners and detainees. In addition, security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained individuals, while lengthy pretrial and incommunicado detention remained serious problems.
In order to encourage an environment where there is respect for human rights, the development of civil society, freedom of expression, and the rule of law, the U.S. ambassador works with local contacts and diplomatic interlocutors to urge the government to end the repression of dissidents and minorities and supports the efforts of the population to broaden real political participation and reassert their right to fundamental freedoms. The embassy draws domestic and international attention to human rights abuses; supports individuals and NGOs seeking peaceful, democratic change; endeavors to foster a more vibrant media and mass communications environment; and utilizes programs to provide training and resources that encourage the development of civil society.
The United States continues to obligate funds through a Syria-specific appropriation from Congress to promote democracy and human rights. These funds allow the United States to support activities that promote democracy, human rights, and the free flow of information to the population.
The United States regularly raises concerns about the government's poor human rights record and urges other democratic actors to do the same. In 2007 the U.S. government issued numerous high-level statements condemning the government for continued harassment and detention of civil society activists and political prisoners and encouraged other like-minded governments to follow suit. The United States actively supports the UN in condemning the government's human rights record and publicly highlights the government's abuse of its citizens' fundamental rights and freedoms. Following the April 2007 parliamentary elections and May 2007 presidential election, both of which were considered by international and local human rights advocates to be neither free nor fair, the United States issued public statements that drew international attention to the highly flawed electoral process. Statements by President Bush, the White House, and the Department of State have expressed continued support for the Syrian people's desire for democracy, human rights, and freedom of expression. U.S. officials continue to stress to the government the importance of respecting freedoms of assembly, association, speech, and the press. The embassy also encourages visiting high-level officials to raise issues of human rights in their meetings with the government.
The United States uses public diplomacy and reporting to highlight human rights abuses and urge the government to improve its practices. The United States maintains contact with a variety of NGOs and civil society activists and documents incidents for dissemination to other governments and inclusion in the annual Country Report on Human Rights Practices and the Annual Report on International Religious Freedom. Through regular contacts with human rights activists, the United States monitors the government's repression of organizations and arrest of democratic activists who seek to assemble and associate peacefully. U.S. officials actively participate in a diplomatic monitoring group that exchanges information on the human rights situation and coordinate diplomatic responses and related assistance programs.
The United States supports the development of an independent media and an independent judiciary through various training programs and workshops. The embassy regularly provides training and assistance to journalists in areas such as ethics in reporting, investigative journalism, networking, and organizing press events. The United States supports legal professionals through workshops that aim to improve legal education for lawyers, including through human rights and interactive training.
In 2007 the United States sponsored approximately 10 local professionals to participate in professional development programs in the United States focused on issues of human rights, civil society, journalism, and good governance. Through these programs, the United States endeavors to develop a free and independent media; raise awareness of issues related to civic responsibility; foster the development of civil society; and provide training in leadership, management, and policy advocacy for promising young leaders in a number of fields. The United States focuses on the professional development of the next generation of leaders in order to help develop a vibrant and robust civil society.
The ambassador and other U.S. officials meet regularly with religious leaders and adherents of religious groups at the national, regional, and local levels to convey U.S. support for freedom of religion.
The United States closely monitors the trafficking in persons situation in the country and cooperates and shares information with international organizations and other governments to increase awareness of and combat trafficking in persons.