Baathist/Syrian state institutions must be reformed

Syrians in London mark anniversary of Assad chemical attack in Ghouta. Demotix/Peter Marshall. All rights reserved.Diplomatic efforts at the international summit in Vienna focused on ISIS, the position of the US and Russia on bringing Iran and Saudi Arabia to the negotiating table, and whether Assad was going to be part of the future government or not. However, mainstream media failed to report what had been said about the future of Syrian state institutions; namely, in a statement released by the European External Action Service, that they would remain intact. 

It was precisely the task of the Syrian revolution to destroy existing Baathist state institutions and rebuild democratic ones. Since Russia and China vetoed the UN Security Council resolution to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court, there are no known intentions of persecuting police and security force personnel for their crimes, and no mechanisms for investigations into abuse have been developed.

Members of the UN Security Council have not issued a resolution that prohibits the targeting of civilians in Syria. Massacres are still being committed and the west is not taking any steps to stop the ongoing violations. State institutions have been responsible for the death of more than 250,000 people (115,627 of them civilians, including 12,517 children and 8,062 females over the age of 18) since 2011.

Assad is responsible for the damage being caused to Syria, but he is not the only one. He is surrounded by military and intelligence figures, most of whom are either his relatives or members of the Assad-Makhlouf clan.

What needs to be done

Institutional reform needs to take place, specifically “lustration”. Lustration determines the eligibility of individuals to participate, and the extent of their participation, in reformed state structures. While some employees, agencies, and practices could be maintained, others have to be abolished or altered in order to best facilitate a peaceful, effective and fair political transition.

All forces and institutions are not even being investigated or condemned by the international community.

Lustration should involve state employees, high ranking officials and soldiers, either individually or through collective processes. Those allowed to participate in reformed institutions should be evaluated on their previous actions in conflict resolution. Effective lustration of government institutions can help mitigate the transition into a post-war scenario and contribute to creating an effective new pyramid of power.  

After more than four years, allegations of atrocities—chemical weapons, torture, mass executions, enforced disappearances, indiscriminate attacks on civilian populations and sexual violence—committed by state forces and institutions are not even being investigated or even condemned by the international community. At the same time, these atrocities are a consequence of this impunity.

The best documentation has been published by human rights organisations, such as the Syria-based Violations Documentation Center (VDC), the Syrian Observatory For Human Rights and the Syrian Network For Human Rights. These independent organisations have continuously been publishing updated lists of documented and reported atrocities, massacres and crimes against civilian men, women and children. 

They have all accused the Syrian regime and its institutions of committing crimes against humanity, and their conclusions are that these practises are part of a deliberate brutal campaign orchestrated by the Syrian government.

To begin with, the international community must investigate the four security directorates: the Syrian Military Intelligence (SMI), the Syrian Air Force Intelligence (SAFI), the General Intelligence Directorate (GID), and the Political Security Directorate (PSD).

The largest intelligence-gathering and internal security organisation is the Syrian National Security Bureau (NSB), an element of the Syrian Ba'ath Party. The NSB coordinates the work of Syria's intelligence, and has been headed since 2012 by Ali Mamlouk, a special security adviser to the Syrian president and one of his trusted men.

Syrian intelligence controls the army and the Syrian population. Thousands of people have disappeared, abducted by members of Shabbiha (from the Arabic word shabah, which literally means "ghost"), and then the bodies are returned to their families with clear signs of torture.

Considering the evidence of crimes against humanity that have been committed in Syria, its state institutions can not remain intact. 

The apparatus of terror uses different methods against its citizens, but torture is the most common. Upon arrest, the individual is brought to a police station for processing and detained until a trial date is set. Thanks to documentation, there is clear evidence that thousands are being tortured to death in secret detention centres after arbitrary arrest.

More than 80,000 people, most of them civilians, have been referred to the Counter-Terrorism Court (CTC), created in 2012 under a presidential decree as a tool for war crimes. The documentation of cases of severe beating and torture during the detention process are available on the Violations Documentation Centre’s website.

Based on pictures and testimonials of the families, the Syrian Network for Human Rights conducted analytical studies that prove that the deaths were caused by severe torture in government detention centres. Even so, most of the individuals who suffered torture or beatings while detained refused to allow their names or details of their cases to be reported out of fear of government reprisal.

A recent Amnesty report, 'Between Prison and the Grave', stated that enforced disappearances have been carried out by all four branches of the Syrian security forces, as well as by the armed forces and militias associated with the Syrian government. It is necessary to give information about all institutions involved in war crimes, and the names of those responsible. The recorded data could provide essential information for humanitarian relief work and have an indispensable role in a justice process.

Considering the evidence of crimes against humanity that have been committed in Syria since 2011, the pervasive climate of impunity for security forces and pro-government militias, and the grave nature of many of their abuses, the state institutions of Syria can not remain intact. All countries are responsible for bringing those who have committed crimes against humanity to justice and therefore, negotiators should reconsider their agreement over the fate of Syrian institutions.

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