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Syria

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were numerous reports the government and its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings in relation to the civil war (see section 1.g.).

The government continued its use of helicopters and airplanes to conduct aerial bombardment and shelling. In the first half of the year, government forces reportedly indiscriminately dropped more than six thousand barrel bombs, killing large numbers of civilians.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) reported the government killed 6,924 civilians from January through November. Nongovernment forces, including both extremist groups such as Da’esh and nonextremist rebel groups, also committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, with the SNHR reporting that Da’esh was responsible for 1,397 civilian deaths. The SNHR also reported that during the same period, Russian forces killed 2,844 civilians in support of government operations (see section 1.g.). The SNHR reported that armed opposition groups killed 900 civilians.

b. Disappearance

The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria (COI) reported the number of forced disappearances remained high. The majority of disappearances reported by activists, human rights observers, and international NGOs appeared to be politically motivated. In August the SNHR attributed 96 percent of the estimated 75,000 forced disappearances to the government. The government reportedly targeted critics, specifically journalists, medical personnel, antigovernment protesters, their families, and associates. The COI reported that government forces continued to engage in mass arrests of wounded persons attempting to leave besieged areas at checkpoints and in areas that fell under their control. Following the surrender of towns such as Darayaa and Moadimiyah after years of siege and starvation tactics, the government evacuated residents by buses escorted by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC). The government gave civilians the choice of relocating nearby, but the government required opposition fighters to take personal weapons and relocate to Idlib governorate. The government reportedly arrested men of fighting age, especially Sunni, perceived to be associated with opposition groups. The COI noted that the families of disappeared persons often feared to approach authorities to inquire about the whereabouts of their relatives; those who did so had to pay large bribes to learn the whereabouts of relatives or faced systematic refusal by authorities to disclose information about the fate of disappeared individuals. The COI reported that the large number of missing men contributed to a sharp rise in female-headed households and increased the number of female IDPs and refugees.

AI reported that the government provided no further information on the thousands of individuals who had disappeared since the start of the conflict or the 17,000 persons who had disappeared since the 1970s. Human rights groups’ estimates of the total number of disappearances since 2011 varied widely, but all estimates pointed to disappearances as a pervasive and common practice. AI estimated that authorities forcibly had abducted more than 65,000 persons since the start of the conflict, including 58,000 civilians and seven thousand members of armed groups. The SNHR likewise reported that it possessed a list of more than 117,000 detainees from 2011 to the end of November. A number of prominent political prisoners remained missing (see section 1.e.). The SNHR reported that government forces and pro-government militias were responsible for 5,228 cases of arbitrary arrest of men, women, and children from January through November.

Nongovernment armed extremist groups conducted kidnappings, particularly in the northern areas, targeting religious leaders, aid workers, suspected government affiliates, journalists, and activists. According to the COI, reports of enforced disappearances in territory held by Da’esh, particularly the cities of Raqqa and Aleppo, also increased.

These groups also abducted individuals (see section 1.g.).

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, and the penal code provides up to three years’ imprisonment for violations. Activists, the COI, and local NGOs reported thousands of credible cases of government authorities engaging in frequent torture to punish perceived opponents, including during interrogations. Observers reported most cases of torture or mistreatment occurred in detention centers operated by each of the government’s security service branches. Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the COI reported regular use of detention and torture of government opponents at checkpoints and facilities run by the air force, Political Security Division, General Security Directorate, and Military Intelligence Directorate. They identified specific detention facilities where torture occurred, including the Mezzeh airport detention facility, Military Security Branches 215, 227, 235, 248, and 291, Adra and Sednaya prisons, the Harasta Air Force Intelligence Branch, Harasta Military Hospital, Mezzeh Military Hospital 601, and Tishreen Military Hospital. The COI also reported the Counterterrorism Court (CTC) and field military courts’ reliance on forced confessions and information acquired through torture to obtain convictions. A large number of torture victims reportedly died in custody; the SNHR reported that 12,679 individuals died due to torture between early 2011 and May; 99 percent of these cases occurred in government facilities between May 2011 and June (see section 1.a.).

Activists cited thousands of credible cases of security forces abusing and torturing prisoners and detainees and maintained that many instances of abuse went unreported. Some declined to allow reporting of their names or details of their cases due to fear of government reprisal.

In 2013 a defector from the government, a former military police photographer known as “Caesar,” smuggled out thousands of photographs from inside government detention centers dating from 2011 to 2013. According to a December 2015 HRW report, a review and forensic analysis by HRW of 28,707 of the photographs identified at least 6,786 deceased detainees–including children–showing signs of torture and severe malnourishment. The COI asserted the methods of torture and the conditions of detention, as evidenced in the photographs in Military Hospital No. 601 in Damascus, supported the commission’s longstanding findings of systematic torture and deaths of detainees.

The COI noted that during the year torture methods remained consistent. These included beatings on the head, bodies, and soles of feet (“falaqua”) with wooden and metal sticks, hoses, cables, belts, whips, and wires. Authorities also reportedly sexually assaulted detainees; administered electric shocks, including to their genitals; burned detainees with cigarettes; and placed them in stress positions for prolonged periods of time. A substantial number of male detainees reported being handcuffed and then suspended from the ceiling or a wall by their wrists for hours.

Other reported methods of physical torture included removing nails and hair, stabbings, and cutting off body parts, including ears and genitals. Numerous human rights organizations reported other forms of torture, including forcing objects into the rectum and vagina, hyperextending the spine, and putting the victim onto the frame of a wheel and whipping exposed body parts. Additionally, officers reportedly continued the practice of “shabeh,” in which they stripped detainees naked, hung them for prolonged periods from the ceiling, and administered electrical shocks. In August, AI and the Human Rights Data Analysis Group published a detailed account of 12,270 documented killings in Sednaya Prison that included detailed depictions of “welcome party” beatings, “security check” rapes, and drawings of various configurations of physical torture. Detainees emphasized that authorities not only beat them during interrogations but that prison guards also beat them in their cells.

Medical professionals reported witnessing persons burned alive in government detention facilities. State authorities reportedly issued fabricated death certificates with the apparent intent of disguising the cause and location of death and of preventing any official record of the use of torture. Numerous NGOs asserted that the practice of returning corpses to family members to announce their deaths continued, and corpses exhibited signs of torture.

The use of psychological torture by the government also reportedly increased. One commonly reported practice was detention of victims overnight in cells with corpses of previous victims. The SNHR reported that psychological torture methods included forcing prisoners to witness the rape of other prisoners, threatening the rape of family members (in particular female family members), forcing prisoners to undress, and insulting prisoners’ beliefs.

Various NGOs, including HRW, AI, and the SNHR, continued to report widespread instances of rape and sexual abuse, including of minors. The COI reported receiving reports of interrogators raping and sexually abusing male detainees held in Branch 285 of the General Directorate of Intelligence in Damascus. The COI also reported that government personnel raped and used other forms of sexual violence against women in detention facilities as well as at checkpoints. A COI report noted that authorities subjected prisoners to threats of sexual violence against their female relatives while in custody.

Reports from multiple UN and NGO sources indicated the number of cases of rape and other extreme sexual violence against women during the year ranged from the high hundreds to thousands. According to the COI, the government and affiliated militias systematically perpetrated rape and other inhuman attacks against civilian populations in Deir al-Zour, Dara’a, Hama, Damascus, and Tartus governorates. Detention centers were the most common location for abuse. In several interviews with the COI, former female prisoners reported being forced to perform oral sex on interrogators and witnessing the rape of other inmates. In AI’s report on Sednaya Prison, both female and male prisoners reported guards and interrogators raped them as part of “security checks” or in conjunction with other physical torture. Attacks also occurred during military raids and at checkpoints. These cases of mostly government-sponsored violence included instances in which multiple attackers, usually soldiers and shabiha, reportedly gang-raped women in their homes, sometimes in front of family members. Such incidents reportedly took place in private homes or in situations of formal and informal custody. The COI also reported rape of and sexual assault on men and boys.

There were widespread reports government security forces engaged in abuse and inhuman treatment of prisoners. According to the COI, most were civilians initially held at checkpoints or taken prisoner during military incursions. While the majority of accounts concerned male detainees, there were increased reports of female detainees suffering abuse in government custody. The frequency, duration, and severity of the reported abuse suggested victims’ sustained long-term psychological and physical damage.

The COI reported that, beginning in 2011 and continuing through the year, security forces subjected detainees to mistreatment in military hospitals, often obstructing medical care or exacerbating existing injuries as a technique in abuse and interrogation. There were multiple reports of deaths in custody at the Mezzeh airport detention facility, Military Security Branches 215 and 235, and Sednaya Prison. Authorities consistently directed families of detainees seeking information to the Qaboun Military Police and Tishreen Military Hospital. In most cases authorities reportedly did not return the bodies of deceased detainees to their families. In January authorities confirmed the death of a paramedic, Amer Safaf, in Sednaya Prison with his body showing signs of torture after government forces arrested him in 2012.

There continued to be a significant number of reports of exceptionally brutal cases of abuse of children by the government. The COI noted regular reports of detention and torture of children under the age of 13, in some cases as young as 11, in government detention facilities. Officials reportedly targeted and tortured children because of their familial relations, or assumed relationships, with political dissidents, members of the armed opposition, and activist groups. The UN special representative for children and armed conflict reported that child detainees, largely boys, including those as young as 14, suffered similar or identical methods of torture practiced on adults, including electric shocks, beatings, stress positions, threats, and acts of sexual assault. According to reliable witnesses, authorities continued to hold a number of children to compel parents and other relatives associated with opposition fighters to surrender to authorities.

Although authorities held fewer women and girls in detention than men, the SNHR estimated the number of female detainees in government prisons between the beginning of the uprising in 2011 and April to be more than seven thousand. The SNHR estimated that 2,850 women remained in prison.

In 2015 the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom reported that authorities often detained women for use in bargaining with their male family members. Authorities exchanged them for weapons of armed opposition groups. Security officers also subjected women to sexual exploitation while searching for their detained family members.

Nongovernment forces, including both extremist groups such as Da’esh and nonextremist rebel groups, also engaged in physical abuse, punishment, and torture of individuals (see section 1.g.).

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions remained harsh and in many instances were life threatening. The government prohibited independent monitoring of prison or detention center conditions. Reports of mistreatment and abuse of prisoners were common. The COI reported that observers most often cited detention centers and prisons as locations for sexual violence and that authorities used the threat of rape as a tool to coerce confessions.

Physical Conditions: In June the SNHR reported that since 2011 it had documented the arrest of more than 117,000 individuals and estimated that authorities had detained more than 215,000 persons; the SNHR attributed 99 percent of those detentions to the government. According to HRW, released detainees consistently reported abuse and torture in detention facilities and prison conditions that often led to deaths in custody. According to the COI, government detention facilities lacked food, water, space, hygiene, and medical care. Poor conditions were so consistent that the COI concluded they reflected state policy.

According to local and international NGOs, the government held prisoners and detainees in severely cramped quarters with little or no access to toilets, hygiene, medical supplies, or adequate food. In a report from HRW in December 2015, detainees told HRW researchers that authorities used small cells measuring 21.5 square feet and intended for solitary confinement to house several prisoners. Due to the extremely crowded nature of these cells, detainees could only stand and had to take turns sleeping.

In August the COI reported that conditions in detention facilities, and specifically those run by intelligence agencies, remained abysmal. Former detainees reported lice infestations, untreated wounds, and a general lack of such basic necessities as food, water, space, hygiene, and medical care.

Reports from multiple international NGO sources suggested that there were also many informal detention sites and that authorities held thousands of prisoners in converted military bases and in civilian infrastructure, such as schools and stadiums, and in unknown locations. Activists asserted the government also housed arrested protesters in factories and vacant warehouses that were overcrowded and lacked adequate sanitary facilities. Authorities imprisoned female detainees in squalid, insect-infested cells and subjected them to torture and inhuman treatment. Medical care, if available at all, was inadequate and did not address women’s medical and physiological needs.

Prior to the 2011 protests, the government usually held pretrial detainees separately from convicted prisoners. During the year, authorities commonly held juveniles, adults, pretrial detainees, and convicted prisoners together in inadequate spaces during the year. The COI reported that authorities held children as young as eight years old in prison with adults.

In some cases authorities transferred detainees from unofficial holding areas to intelligence services facilities. Detention conditions at security and intelligence service facilities continued to be the harshest, especially for political or national security prisoners. Facilities lacked proper ventilation, lighting, access to potable water or adequate food, medical staff and equipment, and sufficient sleeping quarters. According to the COI, most former detainees reported inadequate food, with some losing half their body weight while detained.

Inside prisons and detention centers, the prevalence of death from disease remained high due to unsanitary conditions and withholding medical care and medication. Local NGOs and medical professionals reported that authorities denied medical care to prisoners with pre-existing health needs, such as diabetes, asthma, and breast cancer, and denied pregnant women any medical care. Authorities retaliated against prisoners who requested attention for the sick. Released prisoners commonly reported sickness and injury resulting from such conditions. Information on conditions and care for prisoners with disabilities was unavailable.

In March inmates in Hama prison rioted in protest of inhuman treatment, torture, and killings during imprisonment. Reports from domestic human rights activists and media showed that government forces fired tear gas and positioned snipers around the prison during the revolt. In August human rights activists reported fighting between prisoners and guards in Sweida prison south of Damascus. Reports indicated that the government stormed the prison shortly thereafter, firing tear gas, severely injuring a number of prisoners, and killing at least two.

According to the COI, conditions in detention centers run by nonstate actors such as Da’esh violated international law. Detainees in Raqqa governorate reported that Da’esh held them in crowded, insect-infested cells with neither light nor bedding. Da’esh reportedly denied prisoners access to adequate food or legal counsel and prevented communication outside the facility. Da’esh appropriated former government prison facilities for its use, such as those in al-Bab and Jarablus in Aleppo governorate.

Conditions in detention centers operated by various opposition groups were not well known, but the COI and local NGOs reported accounts of arbitrary detention, torture, inhuman treatment, and abuse.

Administration: The government made no serious attempts to improve recordkeeping. There were no credible mechanisms or avenues for prisoners to complain or submit grievances, and authorities routinely failed to investigate allegations or document complaints or grievances. Activists reported there was no ombudsman to serve on behalf of prisoners and detainees. The law provides for prompt access to family members, but NGOs and families reported inconsistent application of the law, with some families waiting as long as one year to see relatives. The government continued to detain thousands of prisoners without charge and incommunicado in unknown locations.

In areas where government control was weak or nonexistent, localized corrections structures emerged. There were varied reports of control and oversight, and both civilian and religious leaders were in charge of facility administration. Former police forces or members of armed opposition groups operated facilities in areas under the control of opposition forces. Nonstate actors often did not understand due process and lacked sufficient training to run facilities.

Independent Monitoring: The government prohibited most independent monitoring of prison or detention center conditions, and diplomatic and consular officials had no greater access than in previous years. Some opposition forces invited the COI to visit localized facilities they administered and allowed some international human rights groups, including HRW, to visit. The International Committee of the Red Cross/Red Crescent continued to negotiate with all parties, except Da’esh, to gain access to detention centers across but was unable to gain access to any government-controlled facilities during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, although a 2011 decree allows the government to detain suspects for up to 60 days without charge if suspected of “terrorism” and other related offenses. Arbitrary arrests increased according to local news sources, and several human rights organizations reported detentions in the tens of thousands. In February the COI published a report entitled “Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Deaths in Detention in the Syrian Arab Republic.” The report said that “since March 2011, a countrywide pattern emerged in which civilians, mainly males above the age of 15, were arbitrarily arrested and detained by the Syrian security and armed forces or by militia acting on behalf of the government during mass arrests, house searches, at checkpoints, and in hospitals. Arrests targeted civilians perceived to be either supporting the opposition or insufficiently loyal to the government.”

HRW reported the government continued to use the counterterrorism law to arrest and convict nonviolent activists on charges of aiding terrorists in trials that violated basic due process rights. Although authorities reportedly brought charges under the guise of countering violent militancy, allegations included peaceful acts such as distributing humanitarian aid, participating in protests, and documenting human rights abuses.

National security forces failed to respond to or protect large regions of the country from violence. AI reported that armed groups detained suspected government supporters, local activists, foreign journalists, aid workers, and others. The COI also reported that nonstate armed groups, including Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra, took hostages, especially women and children, to force prisoner exchanges with the government or other armed groups or for ransom (see section 1.g.). Observers suspected Jabhat al-Nusra of holding foreign hostages. According to some reports, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) arbitrarily detained 36 Kurdish opposition figures in areas they controlled. Multiple reports accused the PYD or PYD-aligned forces of targeting Assyrian Christians and Yezidis for compulsory military service, seizing their assets and homes, and forcibly removing them from their land.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The government’s multiple security branches traditionally operated autonomously with no defined boundaries between their areas of jurisdiction. Military Intelligence and Air Force Intelligence reported to the Ministry of Defense, the Political Security Directorate reported to the Ministry of Interior, and the General Intelligence Directorate reported directly to the Office of the President. The Interior Ministry controlled the four separate divisions of police forces: emergency police, traffic police, neighborhood police, and riot police.

Government-affiliated shabiha forces reorganized and in 2013 rebranded themselves as the National Defense Forces (NDF). These groups engaged in armed conflict and arrested, detained, and tortured those suspected of supporting the opposition. The NDF integrated with government-affiliated forces. There also were other progovernment militias outside the NDF.

Impunity continued to be a widespread problem. The General Command of the Army and Armed Forces could issue arrest warrants for crimes committed by military officers, members of the internal security forces, or customs police during their normal duties; military courts must try such cases. There were no known prosecutions or convictions of police and security force personnel for abuse or corruption; however, security forces operated independently and generally outside the control of the legal system. There were no reported government actions to reform the security forces or police.

Opposition forces established irregularly constituted courts and detention facilities in areas under their control, which varied greatly in organization and adherence to judicial norms. Some groups upheld the penal code, others followed a 1996 draft Arab League Unified Penal Code based on sharia (Islamic law), while others implemented a mix of customary law and sharia. The experience, expertise, and credentialing of opposition judges and religious scholars also varied widely, and dominant armed militias in the area often subjected them to their orders.

Da’esh claimed that it based administration of justice in the territory it controlled on religious law. Da’esh purportedly authorized its police forces, known as “hisbah,” to administer summary punishment for violations of Da’esh’s morality code. Men faced beatings for smoking, possessing alcohol, listening to music, trading during prayer times, and not fasting during Ramadan. Da’esh punished others for accompanying “improperly dressed” female relatives.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law generally requires a warrant for arrest in criminal cases, but police often cited emergency or national security justifications for acting without a warrant, permitted under the law. Police usually brought arrested individuals to a police station for processing and detention until a trial date was set. The law stipulates that the length of time authorities may hold a person without charge is limited to 60 days, but according to various NGOs, activists, and former detainees, police held many individuals for longer periods or indefinitely. Civil and criminal defendants have the right to bail hearings and possible release from detention on their own recognizance. The legal system inconsistently applied this right, particularly with pretrial detainees. At the initial court hearing, which can be months or years after the arrest, the accused may retain an attorney at personal expense or the court may appoint an attorney, although authorities did not assure lawyers access to their clients before trial. According to local human rights organizations, denial of access to a lawyer was common.

In cases involving political or national security offenses, authorities reportedly often made arrests in secret with cases assigned in an apparently arbitrary manner to military, security, or criminal courts. The government reportedly detained suspects incommunicado for prolonged periods without charge or trial and denied them the right to a judicial determination of their pretrial detention. In most cases authorities reportedly did not inform detainees of charges against them until their arraignment, often months after their arrest. Security detainees did not have access to lawyers before or during questioning or throughout preparation and presentation of their defense. The number of suspects accused of political and national security offenses reportedly increased compared with previous years.

The government often reputedly failed to notify foreign governments when it arrested, detained, released, or deported their citizens, especially when the case involved political charges. The government also failed to provide consular access to foreign citizens known to be in its prisons and, on numerous occasions, claimed these individuals were not in their custody or even in the country.

Arbitrary Arrest: Security forces continued their previous practices and reportedly increased arbitrary arrests, but detainees had no legal redress. Reports continued of security services arresting relatives of wanted persons to pressure individuals to surrender. Police rarely issued or presented warrants or court orders before an arrest. According to reports, the security branches secretly ordered many arrests and detentions. Activists and international humanitarian organizations stated that government forces continued to conduct security raids in response to antigovernment protests throughout urban areas. In areas under government control, security forces engaged in arbitrary arrests. The SNHR reported that government forces launched widespread arrest and raid campaigns in January to force military recruitment on young men. The COI reported that authorities arbitrarily arrested men and boys over the age of 12 at some checkpoints. Often authorities cited no reason for arresting civilians.

Checkpoints operated by the government were another commonly reported location for arbitrary arrests, sometimes resulting in transfer to a long-term detention facility or disappearance. Government military and security forces reportedly arrested men at checkpoints solely for being of military age. According to the COI, there continued to be frequent accounts of enforced disappearances following arrest at checkpoints.

Multiple reports from local and international NGOs stated that the government prevented the majority of those detained from contacting their relatives or obtaining a lawyer. When authorities occasionally released detainees, it was often without any formal judicial procedures. Hundreds of detainees interviewed by human rights groups stated that they had been arrested, detained, questioned, and released after months of detention without seeing a judge or being sentenced.

The SNHR reported that Da’esh also kidnapped many individuals in areas under its control. It also alleged that PYD-affiliated Kurdish forces arrested Arab civilians, activists, and politicians and took them to unknown destinations.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a serious problem. Authorities reportedly held many detainees incommunicado for years before bringing them to trial. A shortage of available courts and lack of legal provisions for speedy trial or plea bargaining also contributed to lengthy pretrial detentions. There were numerous reported instances when the length of detention exceeded the sentence for the crime. Percentages for prison/detainee population held in pretrial detention and the length of time held were not available during the year.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Not all detainees have the ability to challenge the lawfulness of their detention before a court or obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained.

Amnesty: In February the government offered a general amnesty to any military deserters willing to surrender in 30 days after the law took effect, if they were still in the country. The law granted anyone outside the country 60 days to return to the country and surrender. The March Cessation of Hostilities statement called for the United Nations to form a committee to monitor the release of detainees periodically; however, there was no progress made on release of detainees during the year.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law prohibits such actions, but they occurred routinely. Police frequently bypassed search warrant requirements in criminal cases by citing security reasons or emergency grounds for entry into private property. Random home raids occurred in large cities and towns of most governorates where the government maintained a presence, usually following large antigovernment protests or opposition attacks against government targets.

The government continued to open mail addressed to both citizens and foreign residents and routinely monitored internet communications, including e-mail (see section 2.a.).

The government continued to bar membership in some political organizations, including Islamist parties, and often arrested their members (see section 3).

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for the right of assembly, but the government restricted this right. Even after the 2011 repeal of the emergency law, a subsequent 2011 presidential decree grants the government broad powers over freedom of assembly.

The Ministry of Interior requires permission for demonstrations or any public gathering of more than three persons. As a rule the ministry authorized only demonstrations by the government, affiliated groups, or the Baath Party, orchestrating them on numerous occasions. The government continued to use excessive force against peaceful demonstrators.

In opposition-held areas, extremist armed opposition groups targeted activists, protesters, documentation groups, and media groups for detention, hostage taking, harassment, and executions. The COI reported that residents in Da’esh-controlled parts of Aleppo and Raqqa governorates noted severe restrictions on assembly.

According to allegations by Kurdish activists and in press reporting, the PYD and the YPG suppressed freedom of assembly and severely limited freedom of speech in areas under their control.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution permits private associations but grants the government the right to limit their activities. The government restricted freedom of association, requiring prior registration and approval for private associations and restricting the activities of associations and their members. The executive boards of professional associations were not independent of the government.

The government often denied requests for registration or failed to act on them, reportedly on political grounds. None of the local human rights organizations operated with a license, but many functioned under organizations that had requisite government registration. The government continued to block the multi-year effort by journalists to form a countrywide media association. The government selectively enforced the 2011 decree allowing the establishment of independent political parties, allowing only progovernment groups to form official parties (see section 3). According to local human rights groups, opposition activists declined to organize parties, fearing the government would use party lists to target opposition members.

Under the authority of laws that criminalize membership and activity in illegal organizations as determined by the government, security forces detained hundreds of persons linked to local human rights groups and prodemocracy student groups. The government also searched these individuals’ personal and social media contacts for further potential targets.

According to media reports and reports from former residents of Da’esh-controlled areas, Da’esh did not permit the existence of associations that opposed the structures or policies of the “caliphate.”

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution provides for freedom of movement “within the territories of the state unless restricted by a judicial decision or by the implementation of laws.” The government, Da’esh, and other armed groups, however, restricted internal movement and travel and instituted security checkpoints to monitor such travel throughout the regions under their respective control. Government sieges in Homs, Damascus, Rif-Damascus, Deir al-Zour, and Idlib governorates resulted in documented cases of death, starvation, and severe malnutrition (see section 1.g.). Opposition forces imposed sieges on government-held areas in Aleppo governorate, cutting off water, electricity, fuel, and medicine. In areas under its control, Da’esh restricted the movement of government supporters or assumed supporters, especially the Alawi and Shia populations. Other opponents of the government also restricted the movement of such individuals, but to a lesser extent.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Both government and opposition forces reportedly besieged, shelled, and otherwise made practically inaccessible some Palestinian refugee camps, neighborhoods, and sites, which resulted in severe malnutrition, lack of access to medical care and humanitarian assistance, and civilian deaths.

In-country Movement: In government-besieged cities throughout the country, government forces blocked humanitarian access, leading to severe malnutrition, lack of access to medical care, and death, particularly in the cities of Zabadani, Douma, and Eastern Ghouta (see section 1.g.). According to OCHA, 590,000 persons remained in 18 besieged areas. The violence, coupled with significant cultural pressure, severely restricted the movement of women in many areas. Additionally, the law allows certain male relatives to place travel bans on women (see section 6, Women).

The government inconsistently cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in assisting internally displaced persons, refugees, and asylum seekers. The government provided some cooperation to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

The government relied on security checkpoints to monitor and limit movement and expanded them into civilian areas. The government also barred foreign diplomats from visiting most parts of the country and rarely granted them permission to travel outside Damascus. The consistently high level and unpredictability of violence severely restricted movement throughout the country.

Da’esh and opposition groups also controlled movement, including with checkpoints.

Government forces reportedly used snipers to prevent protests, enforce curfews, target opposition forces, and in some cases to prevent civilians from fleeing besieged towns. According to the COI, the drive through long desert detour routes exposed passengers and drivers to arbitrary arrest, unlawful search and seizure of property, demands for bribes, and detention and execution at checkpoints administered by Da’esh, the government, and other armed actors.

Da’esh reportedly did not permit female passengers to traverse territory it controlled unless accompanied by a close male relative.

Foreign Travel: While citizens have the right to travel internationally, the government denied passports and other vital documents based on the applicant’s political views, association with opposition groups, or ties to geographic areas where the opposition dominated. The government also imposed exit visa requirements and routinely closed the Damascus airport and border crossings, claiming the closures were due to violence or threats of violence. Additionally, the government often banned travel by human rights or civil society activists, their families, and affiliates. Many citizens reportedly learned of the ban against their travel only when authorities prevented them from departing the country. The government reportedly applied travel bans without explanation or explicit duration, including in cases when individuals sought to travel for health reasons. The government comprehensively banned international travel of opposition members, often targeting any such individual who attempted to travel. Local media and human rights groups repeatedly stated that opposition activists and their families hesitated to leave the country, fearing attacks at airports and border crossings. In June, Turkish border guards killed 11 Syrian refugees when they attempted to flee from the country.

There were reports Da’esh destroyed Syrian passports and legal records and produced its own passports, not recognized by any country or entity. These policies disproportionately affected children, because many left the country before obtaining a passport or identification card. Additionally, Syrians born abroad to parents who fled the conflict and remained in refugee camps generally did not have access to Syrian citizenship documents. The government in 2015 began allowing Syrians living outside of the country whose passports expired to renew their passports at consulates. Many who fled as refugees, however, feared reporting to the government against which they may have protested or feared the government could direct reprisals against family members still in the country.

Women over 18 have the legal right to travel without the permission of male relatives, but a husband may file a request with the Interior Ministry to prohibit his wife from departing the country.

Da’esh explicitly prohibited women from foreign travel.

Emigration and Repatriation: On their return to the country, both persons who unsuccessfully sought asylum in other countries and those who had previous connections with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood faced prosecution. The law provides for the prosecution of any person who attempts to seek refuge in another country to evade penalty in Syria. The government routinely arrested dissidents and former citizens with no known political affiliation who attempted to return to the country after years or even decades of self-imposed exile. Many emigrants who did not complete mandatory military service could pay a fee to avoid conscription while visiting the country, but this option tended to vary by ethnicity and socioeconomic status. Authorities exempted from military service without payment persons of Syrian origin born in a foreign country but able to demonstrate service in the army of the country of birth.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS

The government largely did not facilitate humanitarian assistance for IDPs and provided inconsistent protection. During the year violence continued to be the primary reason for citizens to leave the country, much of the violence attributed to government and Russian aerial attacks. Years of conflict repeatedly displaced persons; each displacement depleted family assets and eroded coping mechanisms.

By the last quarter of the year, the United Nations estimated there were more than 6.1 million IDPs in the country. The government generally did not provide sustainable access for services to the IDP population and did not offer IDPs assistance or protection. UN humanitarian officials reported that most IDPs sought shelter with host communities or in collective centers, abandoned buildings, or informal camps. In the first half of the year, intensified fighting in the governorates of Aleppo and al-Hasakah displaced more than 900,000 citizens. In September fighting displaced an additional 100,000 persons in Hama governorate. Observers estimated that 75,000 to 100,000 persons, displaced from all parts of the country, remained stranded at the border with Jordan in a location known as “the berm.”

The SARC functioned as the main partner for international humanitarian organizations working inside the country to provide humanitarian assistance in both government- and opposition-controlled areas. Access difficulties–including those imposed by the government, Da’esh, and opposition groups–hindered the delivery of aid to persons in need. NGOs operating from Damascus faced extensive bureaucratic obstruction when attempting to provide relief to populations in need. The SARC and UN agencies sought to increase the flow of assistance to opposition-held areas to meet growing humanitarian needs. The government routinely disrupted the supply of humanitarian aid to rebel-held areas, particularly medical assistance (see section 1.g.).

The humanitarian response to the country was one of the largest in the world, coordinated through a complicated bureaucratic structure. The crisis inside the country continued to meet the UN criteria for a Level 3 response–the global humanitarian system’s classification for response to the most severe, large-scale humanitarian crises. Cross-border operations from Turkey and Jordan provided humanitarian assistance for Syrians. Additional assistance came through cross-line operations originating from Damascus. Since the International Syria Support Group’s Humanitarian Task Force began advocating for expanded access in February, the United Nations provided assistance to nearly 400,000 persons in 17 besieged areas, more than 817,000 in hard-to-reach locations, and 57,000 persons in priority cross-line areas, compared with 30,000 who received assistance in 2015. Assistance reached many besieged and hard-to-reach towns several times. Despite these efforts, however, the Asad government continued to hinder UN access, and many communities continued to suffer and surrender to the government’s “starve and kneel” tactics.

OCHA reported that during July no humanitarian assistance reached more than four million persons in the country’s hard-to-reach areas.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. UNHCR and UNRWA were able to maintain limited protection areas for refugees and asylum seekers, although violence hampered access to vulnerable populations. In coordination with both local and international nongovernmental organizations, the United Nations continued to provide such individuals essential services and assistance.

UNHCR estimated that at least 95,000 persons, mainly Yezidi Iraqis, entered the country following Da’esh attacks on Sinjar District in Iraq, beginning in 2014. Many initially fled to Mount Sinjar but managed to evacuate the mountain with the assistance of military strikes led by the Western coalition and support from Syrian Kurdish groups, who transported many Yezidis into the country. The majority of these persons returned to Iraq through the Iraqi Kurdistan Region; however, in June UNHCR estimated there were approximately 10,000 Iraqis in camps in al-Hasakah governorate, including 2,262 Yezidis in the Newroz camp, 2,330 Sunni Arabs in Roj camp, and 5,700 in al-Hol camp. There were also some Iraqis in the cities of Malkia, Qamishly, Amuda, and Derbasia.

Employment: The law does not explicitly grant refugees, except for Palestinians, the right to work. While the government rarely granted non-Palestinian refugees a work permit, many refugees found work in the informal sector as guards, construction workers, street vendors, and in other manual jobs.

Access to Basic Services: The law allows for the issuance of identity cards to Palestinian refugees and the same access to basic services provided to citizens. The government also allowed Iraqi refugees access to publicly available services, such as health care and education, but residency permits were available only to those refugees who entered Syria legally and possessed a valid passport, which did not include all refugees. The lack of access to residency permits issued by the Syrian authorities exposed refugees to risks of harassment and exploitation and severely affected their access to public services. The approximately 30,000 non-Palestinian refugees in the country faced growing protection risks, multiple displacements, tightened security procedures at checkpoints, and difficulty obtaining required residency permits, all of which resulted in restrictions on their freedom of movement. UNHCR reported a rise in sexual- and gender-based violence and child protection concerns among refugees, including child labor, school dropouts, and early marriages.

STATELESS PERSONS

Approximately 190,000 Kurds in the country are not entitled to Syrian nationality under the law. The government considered the Kurds to be foreigners, which denied them access to services. Following the 1962 census, approximately 150,000 Kurds lost their citizenship. A legislative decree ordained the single-day census in 1962, and the government executed it unannounced with regard to the inhabitants of al-Hasakah governorate. Government justification for this measure was to identify Kurds who had entered the country since 1945. Anyone not registered for any reason or without all required paperwork became “foreign” from that day onward. In similar fashion authorities recorded anyone who refused to participate as “undocumented.” Because of this loss of citizenship, these Kurds and their descendants lacked identity cards and could not access government services, including health care and education. They also faced social and economic discrimination. Stateless Kurds do not have the right to inherit or bequeath assets, and their lack of citizenship or identity documents restricted their travel to and from the country.

In 2011 President Asad issued a decree declaring that stateless Kurds in al-Hasakah governorate who were registered as “foreigners” could apply for citizenship. UNHCR reported that approximately 40,000 of these were still unable to obtain citizenship. Likewise, the decree did not extend to the approximately 160,000 “unregistered” stateless Kurds. The change from 150,000 to 160,000 reflected an approximate increase in population since the 1962 census.

Children derive citizenship solely from their father. Because women cannot confer nationality on their children, an unknown number of children whose fathers were missing or deceased due to the continuing conflict were at risk of statelessness. Mothers could not pass citizenship to children born outside the country, including in neighboring countries operating refugee camps.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a felony, subject to punishment by at least 15 years in prison, but the government did not enforce the law. The law further stipulates that if the rapist marries the victim, the rapist receives no punishment. The victim’s family sometimes agreed to this arrangement to avoid the social stigma attached to rape. There are no laws against spousal rape. Observers of the refugee crisis reported women, men, and community leaders consistently identified sexual violence as a primary reason their families fled the country. The COI reported rape was widespread, and government and progovernment forces used rape to terrorize and punish women, men, and children perceived as associated with the opposition (see section 1.g. for additional information, including on abuses committed by extremist groups). The COI concluded that underreporting and delayed reporting of sexual violence was endemic, rendering an assessment of its magnitude difficult. Reports by the SNHR, HRW, and other NGOs included interviews with female former prisoners, who reported that rape by guards and security forces was common in detention facilities.

The law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence, and violence against women was extensive and generally went unpunished. Victims did not report the vast majority of domestic violence and sexual assault cases. Victims traditionally were reluctant to seek assistance outside the family due to fear of social stigmatization. Security forces consistently treated violence against women as a social rather than a criminal matter. Observers reported that when some abused women tried to file a police report, police did not investigate their reports thoroughly, if at all, and that in other cases police officers responded by abusing the women, including by sexual harassment, verbal abuse, hair pulling, and slapping.

In the past several domestic violence centers operated in Damascus, and the government licensed and affiliated them with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor. Local NGOs reported, however, that many centers no longer operated due to the conflict. There were no known government-run services for women outside Damascus. According to local human rights organizations, local coordination committees and other opposition-related groups offered programming specifically for protection of women; NGOs did not integrate these programs throughout the country, and none reported reliable funding.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): There is no law against FGM/C; however, observers provided no reports of the abuse.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law permits judges to reduce legal penalties for murder and assault if the defendant asserts an “honor” defense, which often occurred. The government kept no official statistics on use of this defense in murder and assault cases. There were no officially reported “honor” killings during the year, but local human rights groups asserted the practice continued, reportedly at previous levels, despite or even because of the continuing violence. NGOs working with refugees reported families killed some rape victims inside the country, including those raped by government forces, for reasons of “honor.” NGOs also reported the conflict led to a significant rise in “honor” killings due to the pervasive use of rape by government forces and sexual slavery and exploitation by Da’esh.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of gender but does not explicitly prohibit sexual harassment. Due to social and cultural pressures, victims rarely reported sexual harassment.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and generally have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Due to the conflict, there was limited access to reproductive health services, and restrictions on movement and lack of transportation affected the capacity of humanitarian response programs. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) reported that infrastructure damage reduced the number of facilities and health personnel able to provide pregnant women with antenatal and postnatal care and skilled attendance at delivery. Activists also reported that government detention centers did not provide medical care to women during pregnancy or birth. Attacks on hospitals affected pregnant women, who were frequently unable to access care, and during the year observers reported to the Human Rights Council that hostilities forced an increasing number of women to give birth through caesarean sections to control the timing of their delivery and avoid traveling in insecure environments.

Female victims subjected to sexual violence lacked access to immediate health care. Consequences included severe physical injuries, psychosocial trauma, unwanted pregnancies, social stigmatization, and infection with sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS. The destruction of hospitals further complicated access to health care. The lack of contraceptives caused many rape victims to face physical, social, and psychological consequences of both rape and any ensuing pregnancy.

Violence throughout the country made accessing medical care and reproductive services both costly and dangerous, and the COI reported that the government and armed extremists sometimes denied pregnant women passage through checkpoints, forcing them to give birth in unsterile and often dangerous conditions, without pain medication or adequate medical treatment. In February, UNFPA estimated that approximately 430,000 women in the country and in nearby refugee camps were pregnant and needed care. It also estimated that 70,000 would likely experience complications related to pregnancy or delivery. UNFPA provided reproductive health services to women by distributing reproductive health kits. According to numerous sources, government forces deliberately denied medical care to persons in areas controlled by the opposition.

Discrimination: Although the constitution provides for equality between men and women and the “right of every citizen to earn his wage according to the nature and yield of the work,” the law does not explicitly stipulate equal pay for equal work. Moreover, a number of sections of family and criminal law do not treat men and women equally. Children derive citizenship solely from their father. An unknown number of children whose fathers were missing or deceased due to the continuing conflict were at risk of statelessness. Before the conflict began, only 16 percent of women participated in the formal labor force, compared with 72 percent of men. Female employment participation decreased as violence and insecurity increased. In previous years the government sought to overcome traditional discriminatory attitudes toward women and encouraged women’s education by providing equal access to educational institutions, including universities.

The Commission for Family Affairs, Ministry of Justice, and Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor shared responsibility for attempting to afford equal legal rights to women. Governmental involvement in civil rights claims, including cases against sexual discrimination, was stagnant, and most claims went unanswered.

Personal status, retirement, citizenship, and social security laws discriminate against women. Men constituted the vast majority of the judiciary, and NGOs suggested this circumstance led to discriminatory treatment of women by federal courts. Under criminal law, if a man and a woman separately commit the same criminal act of adultery, the woman’s punishment is double that of the man’s. The law generally permits women to initiate divorce proceedings against their spouses, although some Christian sects strongly discouraged both women and men from doing so. For Muslims personal status law treats men and women differently. Some personal status laws mirror Islamic law regardless of the religion of those involved in the case. The law does not entitle a divorced woman to alimony in some cases, such as if she gave up her right to alimony to persuade her husband to agree to the divorce. Additionally, under the law a divorced mother loses the right to guardianship and physical custody of her sons when they reach age 13 and of her daughters at age 15, when guardianship transfers to the paternal side of the family.

The government’s interpretation of Islamic law is the basis of inheritance law for all citizens except Christians. Accordingly, courts usually granted Muslim women half of the inheritance share of male heirs. In all communities male heirs must provide financial support to female relatives who inherit less. If they do not, women have the right to sue. During the year there were reports that in some regions custom prevailed over the law and women received no inheritance. A woman’s husband, or male relative in a husband’s absence, may request that the government prohibit his wife’s travel abroad.

Women participated actively in public life and in most professions, including the armed forces, although violence in many regions reduced women’s access to the public sphere. Women and men have equal legal rights in owning or managing land or other property, although cultural and religious norms impeded women’s rights, especially in rural areas. Various sources observed that women constituted a minority of lawyers, university professors, and other professions. While women served in the judiciary, parliament, and high levels of government, the government often denied them decision-making positions (see section 3). According to several organizations, women were underrepresented in the judiciary, as only 13 percent of judges prior to the start of the civil war were women. The SNHR suggested that few, if any, women participated as judges in the courts.

Some opposition groups forbade women from participating equally in irregularly constituted courts (for example, in Aleppo governorate). Women did not hold an equal share of political positions in local opposition governance bodies but remained active in civil society, humanitarian assistance delivery, media, and education. Women did not have significant representation on local or provincial councils, according to NGOs.

Some opposition groups and extremist elements reportedly banned women from teaching and girls from attending school, particularly in Da’esh-controlled Deir al-Zour governorate. According to activists from Raqqa governorate, Da’esh segregated classrooms and removed women from the local councils in territories it controlled.

According to several groups, including HRW, extremist armed groups placed discriminatory restrictions on women and girls in Aleppo, al-Hasakah, Idlib, and Raqqa governorates. Such restrictions included strict dress codes, limitations on women’s engagement in public life and ability to move freely, and constraints on their access to education and employment. Jabhat al-Nusra and Da’esh insisted that women follow a strict dress code that mandated wide cloaks and headscarves and that prohibited jeans, close-fitting clothing, and cosmetics. According to interviewees, members of these groups forbade women to appear in public without a male family member accompanying them in Idlib city, Ras al-Ayn, Tel Abyad (which was no longer in Da’esh control by year’s end), and Tel Aran. Authorities threatened women and girls who did not abide by the restrictions with punishment and, in some cases, blocked them from using public transportation, accessing education, and buying bread. IDPs from the cities of Idlib, Tel Abyad, and Tel Aran related that Jabhat al-Nusra and Da’esh banned women from working outside the home.

In areas under its control, Da’esh published a “Civilization Document” with 16 points that a woman must follow or face the death penalty. They included staying at home and not leaving it without an immediate male relative (mahram); wearing a wide cloak, full face veil, and headscarf; closing hair salons; not sitting on chairs in public; and not seeing male doctors. Da’esh established the “al-Khanssaa” brigade, an all-female police force established in the city of Raqqa, composed mostly of noncitizen women who enforced these regulations, sometimes violently, among women.

There were limited reports of women actively participating in hostilities, including in armed Kurdish opposition groups and the mostly secular “Mother Aisha Brigade,” considered part of the moderate armed opposition in the city of Aleppo. There also were limited reports of female Da’esh members actively participating in armed hostilities. In Raqqa Da’esh enlisted some women into the “al-Khanssaa” brigade, to staff checkpoints, enforce Da’esh laws, and participate in some house raids.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship solely from their father. In large areas of the country where civil registries were not functioning, authorities did not register births. The government did not register the births of Kurdish noncitizen residents, including stateless Kurds (see section 2.d., Stateless Persons). Failure to register resulted in deprivation of services, such as diplomas for high school level studies, access to universities, access to formal employment, and civil documentation and protection.

Education: The government provided free public education to citizen children from primary school through university. Education is compulsory for all children between the ages of six and 12. Noncitizen children could also attend public schools at no cost but required permission from the Ministry of Education.

The conflict increasingly hampered the ability of children to attend school. OCHA estimated that citizens could not use one in four schools because they were damaged, destroyed, or in use as shelters for IDPs or for military purposes. According to UNICEF, 52,500 teachers had left their posts in the first four years of the conflict. It also estimated that 2.4 million schoolchildren between the ages of three and 17 were no longer attending school. Societal pressure for early marriage and childbearing interfered with girls’ educational progress, particularly in rural areas, where dropout rates for female students remained high.

According to several reports, Da’esh segregated classrooms (including teachers) by gender, dismissed students for dress code violations, imposed its curriculum on teachers, and closed private schools and educational centers. According to local sources, Da’esh forces prevented young women in Raqqa governorate from traveling to complete their university exams. Da’esh also banned several basic education subjects, such as chemistry.

While Palestinians and other noncitizens, including stateless Kurds, could generally send their children to school and universities, stateless Kurds were ineligible to receive a degree documenting their academic achievement.

Child Abuse: The country lacked a formal law protecting children from abuse. There were reports of government forces sexually assaulting, torturing, detaining, and killing children (see sections 1.a., 1.b., 1.c., and 1.g.). HRW reported that government teachers and principals interrogated and, in some cases, beat students who expressed antigovernment sentiments. Additionally, the United Nations, HRW, and local news sources reported that government forces used children as human shields.

Da’esh subjected children to extremely harsh punishments, including execution (see section 1.g.).

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18 for men and 17 for women. A boy or girl who is 15 or older may marry if a judge deems both parties willing and “physically mature,” and if the fathers or grandfathers of both parties consent. Although underage marriage declined considerably in past decades, it was common and occurred in all communities, albeit in greater numbers in rural and less developed regions. The media and NGOs reported that early marriage, particularly among girls, increased among Syrian refugee populations.

Da’esh systematically abducted and sexually exploited Yezidi girls in Iraq and transported them to Syria for systematic rape and forced marriage (see section 1.g. and section 6, Women).

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: See Women above.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The age of sexual consent, in accordance with the law, is 15. Premarital sex is illegal, but observers reported authorities did not enforce the law. Rape of a child under the age of 15 is punishable by up to 21 years in prison. There were no reports of government prosecution of child rape cases.

Media and NGOs claimed that sexual exploitation of girls under the age of 15 remained widespread. In refugee communities some families reportedly prostituted young women and girls due to economic desperation. There were also reports that local government officials and aid workers sexually exploited women and girls in refugee camps.

The penal code stipulates penalties for those found guilty of certain forms of child abuse associated with trafficking crimes, including kidnapping and forced prostitution, both of which carry a penalty of up to three years in prison. The law considers child pornography a trafficking crime, but the penalties for child pornography were set at the local level with “appropriate penalties.” It was also unclear if there had been any prosecutions for child pornography or if the law was enforced.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

NGOs estimated fewer than 20 Jews remained in the country. According to the media and the Syrian American Council, in 2014 government forces destroyed the Eliyahu Hanabi synagogue, the country’s oldest, in an artillery attack on Jobar, a rebel-held neighborhood in Damascus. Government and opposition forces accused each other of burning and looting the Jobar synagogue.

The national school curriculum did not include materials on tolerance education or the Holocaust.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities and seeks to integrate them into the public-sector workforce, but the government did not effectively enforce these provisions. The law protects persons with disabilities from discrimination in education, access to health care, or provision of other state services, and it reserves 4 percent of government-sector jobs and 2 percent of private-sector jobs for persons with disabilities. Private businesses are eligible for tax exemptions after hiring persons with disabilities. The law does not address specific disabilities. Syria ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CPRD) and the CPRD’s optional protocol that include language regarding prohibition of discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. They also include language on protecting persons with disabilities from discrimination in air travel and other transportation, as well as in the judicial system. There is no indication that the laws were amended to reflect protections contained in the CPRD and the optional protocol.

Authorities did not fully document the number of persons with disabilities, but the conflict negatively affected persons with disabilities and increased their numbers through injuries. The SNHR reported the deaths of hundreds of citizens with pre-existing health conditions who could not access medical facilities due to conflict-related travel restrictions, including both government and extremist checkpoints. In other instances, government blockades prevented the movement of medical supplies and persons to opposition-held areas and prevented persons with medical needs from seeking appropriate treatment.

The government did not effectively work to provide access for persons with disabilities to buildings, communication, or information. Along with their peers, the conflict increasingly hampered the ability of children with disabilities to attend primary and secondary school in addition to seeking higher education.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor is responsible for assisting persons with disabilities and worked through dedicated charities and organizations to provide assistance.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

As in previous years, the government actively restricted national and ethnic minorities from conducting traditional, religious, and cultural activities. The Kurdish population, citizens and noncitizens, faced official and societal discrimination and repression as well as government-sponsored violence. Government forces arrested, detained, and reportedly tortured numerous Kurdish activists during the year.

The government continued to limit the use and teaching of the Kurdish language. It also restricted publication of books and other materials in Kurdish, Kurdish cultural expression, and at times the celebration of Kurdish festivals. Authorities continued enforcement of a 2009 government rule requiring that at least 60 percent of the words on signs in shops and restaurants be in Arabic (see section 2.a.).

Clashes between Kurdish groups and Da’esh continued during the year. In April residents of Tal Abyad accused Kurdish forces of forcing them out of the town after liberating it in 2015 from Da’esh. Some media and local human rights activists reported that residents in Manbij raised similar concerns after the Syrian Democratic Forces (composed mostly of Kurdish fighters) liberated the city in August.

The Alawite community, to which Bashar Asad belongs, enjoyed privileged status throughout the government and dominated the state security apparatus and military leadership. Nevertheless, the government reportedly also targeted Alawite opposition activists for arbitrary arrest, torture, detention, and killing. Extremist opposition groups targeted Alawite communities on several occasions for their perceived progovernment stance.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The penal code prohibits homosexual relations, defined as “carnal relations against the order of nature,” and provides for at least three years’ imprisonment for violations. The law specifically criminalizes any sexual act that is “contrary to nature.” In previous years police used this charge to prosecute lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals. There were no reports of prosecutions under the law during the year, although NGO reports indicated the government arrested dozens of gay men and lesbians over the past several years on charges, such as abusing social values; selling, buying, or consuming illegal drugs; and organizing and promoting “obscene” parties.

Although there were no known domestic NGOs focused on LGBTI matters, there were several online networking communities, including an online LGBTI-oriented magazine. Human rights activists reported there was overt societal discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in all aspects of society. There were also reports of extremist groups threatening LGBTI activists.

Local media reported numerous instances in which security forces used accusations of homosexuality as a pretext to detain, arrest, and torture civilians. The frequency of such instances was difficult to determine, since police rarely reported their rationale for arrests. Furthermore, social stigma prevented many victims of such abuse from coming forward, even when accusations were false. In previous years photographs and videos appeared showing Da’esh pushing men suspected of “being gay” from rooftops in Raqqa governorate or stoning them to death. According to Outright International, on May 7, Da’esh’s media office issued a “photo report about the imposition of sharia punishment” on those suspected of belonging to the LGBTI community. The photographs included images of a boy pushed from the top of a building.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no reports of violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, but human rights activists believed such cases were widely underreported. The government, World Bank, and World Health Organization did not maintain current data on the number of persons infected with HIV/AIDS living in the country. Observers, however, expected the HIV/AIDS rate of infection to rise with increased sexual violence in the country.

Section 7. Worker Rights

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution prohibits discrimination against persons on the basis of race, color, marital status, belief, political opinion, trade union membership, nationality, descent, or disability. The constitution prohibits discrimination based on gender, although personal status and penal laws continued to discriminate. The constitution does not address discrimination based on sexual orientation, age, or HIV-positive status. Since the government legally prohibits homosexuality (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity), many persons faced discrimination due to their sexual orientation. There were no reports of government activities to encourage participation or prevent discrimination against persons with disabilities. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to certain ethnic groups (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).

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