Syria: Fears of a COVID-19 Pandemic in Detention Centers

In Arab Countries, International Advocacy Program by CIHRS

The spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) poses a great danger to the lives of the nearly 100,000 detainees held in the Syrian government’s detention facilities, despite the government’s denial of the virus’s spread in Syria.  Detainees in Syria’s prisons already have threatened or weakened immune systems from being held in inhumane conditions characterized by systematic torture, denial of medical care, and cramped, unsanitary and unventilated cells; if the coronavirus were to spread to Syria’s prisons, the results would be calamitous.

There are approximately 90,212 detainees in the prisons of the government of Bashar al-Assad – a  number confirmed by the Violations Documentation Center in Syria (VDC);however,  the true figure is likely to be higher. These detainees were arbitrarily arrested with no legitimate cause, often for participating in peaceful protests or for expressing dissenting or independent political opinions. The majority of prisoners of conscience or political detainees have been excluded from the pardon decrees issued by al-Assad. Armed groups throughout Syria are also arbitrarily detaining thousands of civilians without any legal justification.

Thousands of arrests turned into enforced disappearances after the Syrian government refused to acknowledge the arrests or reveal the fate or whereabouts of detainees. Furthermore, and especially in the context of the current pandemic, the Syrian government’s refusal to release the health records of detainees is highly concerning -either of those who have recently died or those recently detained with chronic health conditions or in need of urgent medical care.

The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners of 1955 stipulates the provision of healthcare during imprisonment, including for prisoners held without charge. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights enshrines prisoners’ right to safe and healthy spaces and their right to be provided with adequate healthcare services and medicines, together with special protection for prisoners at risk. Based on these principles, we the signatory organizations, demand the following;

1- Official bodies of the Syrian government must immediately release detainees as well as political prisoners and human rights defenders. To limit the possibility of the virus infecting detainees, no new arrests should be made.

 2- All parties to the conflict must take urgent and effective measures to open all detention centers in Syria to the competent international authorities, and take the necessary measures to save the lives of detainees, in accordance with international human rights law and based on the relevant international resolutions.

 3- The UN Special Envoy and UN Agencies must pressure the Syrian government to release political prisoners and human rights defenders held in official and unofficial detention centers.

 4- All authorities responsible for detention centers must take all precautionary measures to prevent the spread and the diffusion of Covid-19 inside the centers.

 5- The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) must immediately take actions to improve health conditions in detention centers, and urgently  visit the centers, to provide detainees with the means of disease prevention, treatment if necessary, and to ensure appropriate health conditions for those most vulnerable to the disease.

Signatory Organizations:

  1. Access Center for Human Rights – ACHR
  2. American Relief Coalition for Syria
  3. ASML/Syria
  4. Association of Detainees and Missing in Sednaya Prison
  6. Baytna Syria
  7. Bercav Organization
  8. Caesar Families Association
  9. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  10. center for Civil Society and Democracy
  11. Dawlaty
  12. Detainees Voice
  13. Families For Freedom
  14. Hurras Network
  15. Jana Watan
  16. Justice For Life
  17. Kesh Malek Organization
  18. Lawyers and Doctors for Human Rights (LDHR)
  19. Local Development and Small-Projects Support (LDSPS)
  20. Local Development Organization
  21. MENA Rights Group
  22. NoPhotoZone
  23. Pro-Justice
  24. Rahma Worldwide
  25. “Shaml” Syrian CSOs Coalition
  26. Space of Hope Organization
  27. Start Point
  28. Still There
  29. Swasia Charity Foundation
  30. Syria for Relief and Development
  31. Syria legal Network/ NL
  32. Syrian Journalists Association
  33. Syrian Lawyers Aggregation
  34. Syrian League for Citizenship
  35. Syrian Network for Human Rights
  36. Syrian Women Committee
  37. Syrian Women Network
  38. Syrians for Truth and Justice-STJ
  39. The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
  40. The Day After
  41. The Gulf Centre for Human Right (GCHR)
  42. Women Now for Development
  43. Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression

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