National Academies Press: OpenBook

Scientists and Human Rights in Syria (1993)


Suggested Citation:"CONCLUSIONS ." National Research Council. 1993. Scientists and Human Rights in Syria. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9173.
Page 26
Suggested Citation:"CONCLUSIONS ." National Research Council. 1993. Scientists and Human Rights in Syria. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9173.
Page 27
Suggested Citation:"CONCLUSIONS ." National Research Council. 1993. Scientists and Human Rights in Syria. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9173.
Page 28
Suggested Citation:"CONCLUSIONS ." National Research Council. 1993. Scientists and Human Rights in Syria. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9173.
Page 29

Below is the uncorrected machine-read text of this chapter, intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text of each book. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Conclusions Syria should make public the names of political prisoners and detainees it has released and provide information on those still held in detention and imprisonment. The Syrian government has released large numbers of political prison- ers—more than 3,500 in 1991 and 1992. This is a praiseworthy step, but its effect is seriously diminished by Syria's stubborn refusal to identify the names of those released. On many occasions, the CHR has pointed out to Syrian officials that it is in their government's interest to make known the names of those released. Because the government has not done so, we can only conclude that it fears that making these names public will call atten- tion to the fact that it arrested and detained so many persons for very long periods of time, often without charge. Also behind the Syrian policy of secrecy may be the desire to make it more difficult to know the identity of those still held for political reasons. If the Syrian government continues to withhold the names of former detainees who have been released, it cannot expect to get the credit it de- serves for the releases. In their efforts to assure the release of all political detainees, human rights organizations will have no choice but to continue to circulate the full list of those known to have been incarcerated, including persons who may have been freed but whose freedom has not been ac- knowledged or verified. The CHR therefore reiterates its appeal to the Syrian government to publish immediately the names of all individuals re- leased in recent amnesties and to provide information on those still held in detention and imprisonment. 26

SCIENTISTS AND HUMAN RIGHTS IN SYRIA 27 Scientists, engineers, and health professionals, released from detention, should be allowed to resume their careers and faculty positions. Although recent releases include at least 49 CHR cases, the committee notes that the individuals had been held without charge or trial on political grounds for extremely lengthy periods of time. The majority may have been tortured or otherwise mistreated. Moreover, those released who were university faculty members are reportedly not being allowed to resume their university careers, presumably because of their political beliefs and associa- tions. The CHR urges the Syrian authorities to ensure that released faculty members be returned to university positions, that any necessary training to bring them up to date in their fields be provided, and that the stigma of imprisonment be removed from their professional lives. Engineers who were former government employees have been reinstated to their positions. Special consideration should also be given to educators. Syria should live up to its commitments under the International Cov- enant on Civil and Political Rights, which it ratified. The continued detention or imprisonment on political grounds of sub- stantial numbers of scientists, engineers, and health professionals and the continuing arrests of other scientific colleagues are of great concern to the CHR. In addition to violating basic standards of human rights, their incar- ceration undermines Syria's quest for economic development and techno- logical progress. Scientists and others held for the nonviolent expression of their political beliefs should be released immediately and unconditionally and reintegrated into Syrian life. Scientists who have been formally charged should receive prompt, fair, and public trials. The trials held in 1992 under the state security court system reportedly violated the most elementary stan- dards of due process. Moreover, most of those charged are being held for the expression of political views, belonging to political parties, advocating human rights reform, and establishing human rights organizations—activi- ties that are not criminal offenses under international human rights law. In 1979, Syria ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and in so doing pledged to respect these and other fundamental human rights. It should live up to this pledge. The Syrian government should heed the requests of the former engi- neers', medical, bar, and pharmacists' associations to end the long- standing state of emergency. Syria's state of emergency, in force since 1963, is the reason given for the suspension of so many basic human rights in Syria. It is regularly used

28 SCIENTISTS AND HUMAN RIGHTS IN SYRIA to justify the arrest and preventive detention of large numbers of people without due process. Syrian officials have rationalized its continuation by citing the state of war with Israel and the threat of terrorism, but those who are detained for political reasons are clearly people who advocate internal reform in Syria. The lifting of the state of emergency was requested by Syria's professional associations a decade ago. The Syrian government should heed this request, in the interest of modernizing and democratizing its own society and bringing its human rights practices into line with the international human rights obligations it has legally assumed. There should be an immediate halt to torture and inhumane treatment of prisoners and detainees in Syria in accordance with Syrian and in- ternational law. The inhumane treatment to which so many detainees and prisoners are subjected is another feature of Syria's poor international human rights record. The CHR urges a complete and immediate cessation of torture and ill- treatment of prisoners in compliance with Syria's constitution, which deems torture a criminal offense and calls for punishment of those who perpetrate it. That this can be done expeditiously is illustrated by the fact that, on the special instruction of President Assad, one group of 21 engineers and law- yers detained in 1980 ("the association group") were not subjected to tor- ture. This instruction should be extended to all prisoners and detainees in Syria. Doing so would accord with Syria's obligations under the Interna- tional Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Prisoners also should be assured regular access to family members, lawyers, and adequate medical care. In addition, all cases of torture, death or disappearance in detention, and summary execution should be impartially investigated, those respon- sible prosecuted, and a full accounting given of all those who died in cus- tody and who disappeared. In particular, the CHR would like information about the cases of scientists who are reported to have died or disappeared in detention or to have been killed or executed (see Appendix D). For those who have been subjected to torture and mistreatment, medical attention and compensation should be provided. The freedoms enjoyed by the former professional organizations in Syria should be restored. Professional associations in Syria have had a long history of free elec- tions, democratic rule, and relative autonomy from government. But today, the engineers', medical, bar, and pharmacists' associations remain under strict government control. This makes it impossible for them to act as true professional organizations and undercuts efforts at scientific inquiry, inde-

SCIENTISTS AND HUMAN RIGHTS IN SYRIA 29 pendent research, and development. It also seriously impedes increased contacts with scientists in the United States and other democratic nations. Restoration of the freedoms earlier enjoyed by the professional associations could bring Syria substantial international scientific benefits. For genuine liberalization to take place, the laws introduced in 1980 and 1981 dissolving the associations and establishing Ba'ath Party control over them will have to be repealed. The independence of the associations will have to be af- firmed and government dissolution of them prohibited. Free elections will have to be held by secret ballot, with the candidates chosen by democratic procedure. In the interim, one positive step would be to reinstate the offic- ers of the dissolved associations to their former positions. The Syrian government should allow human rights missions by the NAS Committee on Human Rights and other human rights organizations. Over the past year the Syrian government has shown somewhat greater openness to contacts with human rights organizations. We regret, however, that in the fall of 1992, the Syrian government refused a request for a visit by delegates from the National Academy of Sciences' Committee on Hu- man Rights who wished to inquire about the status of scientific colleagues who have been imprisoned. It is to be hoped that the Syrian government will bring its policies into line with international practice and allow a visit by the CHR and other human rights organizations. The CHR is confident that U.S. scientists and scientific organizations would be willing to explore how they could work together with their colleagues in Syria if the Syrian government were to commit itself to meaningful human rights improve- ments and reform.

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In 1976 the Committee on Human Rights (CHR) was create with members from the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The CHR works on behalf of scientists, engineers, and health professionals who are detained, imprisoned, or exiled or who have disappeared for the nonviolent exercise of their fundamental rights. Thus, the CHR has taken on the case of 287 scientists, engineers, and health professionals who have been incarcerated for political reasons.

Syria has held the record for the country with the highest number of scientists, engineers, and health professionals detained for political reasons. It is estimated that the Syrian government has freed more than 3,500 political detainees but no list of their names have been published. Due to this, the CHR cannot confirm how many of the 287 persons whose cases it has undertaken have been freed. The CHR currently knows that at least 49 of the 287 have been freed.

Shedding light upon this issue, Scientists and Human Rights in Syria presents the current state of the situation, an eyewitness account from a former prisoner, the controls present in Syria over the professional associations and prospects for liberalization and the CHR's conclusions. The report also includes a list of scientists, engineers, and health professionals who have been detained.


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