Thousands of Syrian government documents recovered amid the country’s civil war provide a paper trail showing widespread and systematic human rights violations by its powerful security agencies, according to a Syrian-led organization that analyzed the papers, the Syria Justice and Accountability Center.
In a report released Tuesday, the centre said the documents reveal the government’s own record of practices long described by numerous ordinary Syrians, including sweeping arrests for nonviolent dissent, the detention of women and children, the imprisonment of relatives of wanted people, the ordering of military attacks without apparent regard for the danger to civilians, and the harassment of the Kurdish minority.
The documents bolster reporting by The New York Times and others on the sprawling network of torture prisons where at least 14,000 people have died and nearly 128,000 remain imprisoned or unaccounted for. They provide an additional glimpse of the broad array of offences for which the Syrian security agencies made arrests, such as attending a protest (or simply being rumoured to be planning to attend one), spitting near a statue of the former president, or making a critical remark at a dinner party.
While such practices are familiar to many Syrians, the centre’s executive director, Mohammad Al-Abdallah, called the report the first broad, public analysis of official government documents that “expose clear patterns of widespread, systematic human rights violations” and show that “security agencies operate above the law.”
The Washington-based centre, known as SJAC, analyzed a sample of 5,003 documents drawn from about 483,000 papers retrieved from Syria during the civil war, now in its ninth year. The files were collected from government offices that were taken by rebels or abandoned during the fighting. Some were gathered by SJAC, and most by another group, the Commission for International Justice and Accountability, which has catalogued 800,000 government documents that it hopes will be used in future war-crimes prosecutions.
Additional government documents in the commission’s possession show that top officials reporting directly to President Bashar Assad ordered crackdowns and knew of widespread deaths in detention. The documents made public by SJAC are just a portion of the commission’s documents showing similar practices, and SJAC’s analysis is broadly in line with the commission’s findings in legal briefs that have been viewed by The Times.