Campaigns of arrest and enforced disappearance are still ongoing in Syria, including against those covered by “reconciliation agreements” and those who have been included in regime-issued amnesty, which highlights a lack of any kind of security guarantee in Syria. 19 per cent of those arrested were covered by amnesty while 26 per cent were covered by “reconciliation agreement”. The amnesty laws are almost illusory, used to falsely demonstrate goodwill without the real release of those detained for political reasons and do not represent a guarantee.
The survey discussed the perception and impact of the 18 amnesty decrees issued by the Syrian regime since the start of the popular uprising in March 2011. Examining the timing and scope of those decrees reveals the following patterns:
- Amnesty decrees are usually issued when the regime is: (1) under pressure or scrutiny by the international community (e.g., decree 2020/6), (2) senses high levels of domestic discontent or (3) needs to improve its image before key events such as elections (e.g., decree 2021/13).
- Most are partial decrees with several exemptions targeting individuals and sectors of society that should be covered by them, and end up excluding the release of detainees who were arrested for their role in the uprising or for their political position.
- Even with the partial and selective nature of amnesties, the implementation and execution of the decrees further diminishes their impact; they are often implemented with a considerable level of corruption and extortion.
These patterns can be easily observed in the last two amnesty decrees issued by the regime (mentioned in the first bullet above). Decree 6 was issued on the pretext of combating the COVID19- pandemic by emptying prisons of detainees covered by the decree, which was limited to a very specific type of crime (Drug smuggling crimes – kidnapping – trading in non-Syrian currency – bribery – escaping from military service). According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, it was a “hoax” that resulted in the release of a very limited number of detainees: they documented only 96 out of 130,000 detainees, those arrested for political crimes. Their report also noted that the regime released detainees imprisoned for either criminal offences or avoiding military conscription. Those accused of terrorism or “weakening the national sentiment”—the regime’s main charges against political dissidents, activists or members of opposition groups—were excluded.
Decree 13 was issued just before the May 2021 presidential elections, using the same approach and implementation as used for previous decrees. There are no official numbers indicating how many people benefited from it. It is clear that amnesty decrees are political tools used by the regime (sometimes successfully) to relieve international pressure and mislead both Syrians and international actors.