4.1. The State

Common analysis
Last updated: September 2020

The term ‘State’ (Article 7(1)(a) QD) encompasses any organ exercising legislative, executive, judicial or any other functions and acting at any level, be it central, federal, regional, provincial or local. Sometimes, private entities may also be given State powers and made responsible for providing protection under the control of the State.

In order to qualify as an actor of protection, the State has to be able and willing to protect persons under its jurisdiction.

The protection in the country of origin has to meet three cumulative conditions. It has to be:

Figure 13. Requirements to the protection in the country of origin in accordance with Article 7 QD.

It should also be kept in mind that effective protection is presumed not to be available where the State or agents of the State are the actors of persecution or serious harm (Recital 27 QD).

As of September 2019, the Syrian government reportedly controlled most of the country, including the major cities of Damascus, Aleppo, Homs and Hama, and nearly all the provincial capitals. Three larger areas remained outside of the territorial control of the government: Idlib governorate and adjacent areas in western Aleppo governorate and northern Hama governorate; the northern and eastern parts of the country under the control of the Kurdish-dominated SDF; and a 55 km wide buffer zone around the Al Tanf border crossing with Iraq and near the Rukban refugee camp in Homs governorate [Actors, 2.1.1].It should also be kept in mind that effective protection is presumed not to be available where the State or agents of the State are the actors of persecution or serious harm (Recital 27 QD).

Despite the government’s ability to recapture the majority of Syria’s territory, the conflict significantly affected the State’s role, reach and institutional capacity in government-held areas. The government lacks the forces to secure the areas it retakes, but also pursues punitive policies against local populations [Security 2020, 1.5.1; Actors, 2.1.1]. The provision and quality of State services such as health, education, and electricity were reported to vary in government-controlled areas depending on their perceived loyalty or hostility towards Assad’s government. In areas with a history of resistance against the Assad’s regime, the government was reportedly focusing more on restoring governance rather than providing services. Despite the economic pressure, the Syrian government reportedly managed to maintain State institutions and economic entities functional to a certain degree [Actors, 2.1.1].

Assad and Baath party leaders dominate all three branches of government as an authoritarian regime [Actors, 2.1.2]. The president is elected for a seven-year mandate at a time in elections that are tightly controlled without any genuine opposing candidates [Security 2019, 1.1]. President Bashar al-Assad has ruled Syria since he took over the presidency in 2000, following the rule of his father Hafez al-Assad who came into power in 1970. The last presidential elections were held in 2014 but were not considered free or fair. Assad is the supreme commander of the armed forces and leader of the ruling Baath Party [Actors, 2.1.2].

A set of formal state institutions, such as the parliament and government, exist under the president, but, according to Syria analyst Aron Lund, in practice, they lack independent power and are overshadowed by an informal network closely linked to the president, consisting of the heads of the various security services and a small group of politicians and wealthy businessmen [Security 2019, 1.1]. Syria’s legislative body, the 250-member People’s Council, is controlled by the Baath Party and other minor allies, such as the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, businessmen and tribal sheikhs. In practice, the People’s Council is considered a ‘rubber stamp’ parliament, which does not play an important role in the Syrian political system [Actors, 2.1.3].

Syria’s judicial system consists of civil, criminal, military, personal status courts, Terrorism Court, as well as a court of cassation, among others. The Syrian judicial system is described as being subservient to and corrupted by the President of the Republic, the Baath Party and organs of the multiple security services in Syria. The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, in practice the judiciary is not independent and is subjected to political influence, intimidation and abuse, lacks adherence to legal procedures and suffers from widespread corruption. The right to a fair trial is enshrined in the Constitution but is not respected in practice [Actors, 2.1.4]. Syria ranked 178/180 on Transparency International’s corruption index for 2018. The country scored 1.5 on a 1-10 scale in the Bertelsmann Transformation Index (BTI)’s 2018 rule of law index, which is composed of four evaluated criteria (separation of powers, independent judiciary, prosecution of office abuse and civil rights). In the World Bank’s 2018 indicator for rule of law, Syria scored 0.96 out of 100 [Actors, 2.2.5]. The legal procedures in Syrian courts are very slow, and a case could take years to be closed. Insufficient courts and lack of legal provisions for speeding up trials led to pre-trial detentions that sometimes exceeded the sentence for the crime [Actors, 2.2.4]. According to ILAC, appointed judges had no legal training despite the formal requirements. Despite reported increases, judges in Syria receive low wages, which encouraged corruption to the extent that a price for each type of law cases was established [Actors, 2.2.5].

A situation of lawlessness was reported in several governorates, such as Hama, Homs, Deir Ez-Zor, Dar’a, [Security 2020, 2.3.3, 2.6.3, 2.9.3.5, 2.12.3.2]. In addition, sources such as the UNPFA refer to the absence of law enforcement, including police and judicial redress mechanisms, noting that perpetrators of violence face no accountability to deter their actions, and survivors face a lack of formal protection [Situation of women, 1.2.4]. Effective protection of women against violence is limited, with enforcement being either weak or non-existent. See also 2.12.1. Violence against women and girls: overview.

The rise of militias, warlords and war profiteers, coupled with heavy influence and dependence on foreign involvement, are factors that experts assessed could potentially pose significant threats to maintaining centralised control by the State. Competing economic interests of militias linked to smuggling, looting, and criminality have reportedly led to occasional clashes between army branches and militias. [Actors, 2.3.1] 

Prison and detention centre conditions in Syria included small, overcrowded cells, spread of respiratory and dermatological diseases due to lack of medical treatment, starvation, lack of sanitary facilities and sleep deprivation. Children were held in prisons together with adults. Detainees in Syria face the risk of ill-treatment, and even execution [Actors, 2.2.6]. Syria is one of the countries that continued to apply the capital punishment. Death penalty continued to be in force for several offences. On 15 September 2019, President Assad issued an amnesty decree reducing the death penalty to life imprisonment for crimes and offences committed before 14 September 2019 and pardoned draft evaders if they turn themselves in with a three- to six-month delay. Information on the implementation of the decree could not be found [Actors, 2.2.3].

The Syrian Armed Forces consist of the SAA, the navy, the air force, the intelligence services and the NDF. Bashar al-Assad acts as the commander in chief of the SAA and the armed forces. Operational control of the forces was maintained by the Chief of Staff of the Syrian Armed Forces [Security 2020, 1.4.1; Actors, 2.3.1]. The war has affected the SAA. The army has decreased in size, the quality of the troops is low, and its combat capabilities remain limited. As a result of the conflict, the SAA has reportedly become even more corrupt and fragmented. Army officers received bribes from each person wanting to avoid reserve conscription or to facilitate people smuggling to Turkey or Lebanon to avoid military service or arrest by the government [Actors, 2.3.1].

Syria’s security apparatus is composed of four main intelligence branches that are formally coordinated by the National Security Bureau, which is overseen by the President's office: Air Force Intelligence, Military Intelligence Department, General Intelligence Directorate, Political Security Directorate. Since the outbreak of the conflict, the regime has relied on the intelligence agencies to maintain control of the country and focus on opponents of the regime. The four main intelligence agencies were responsible for most arrests and detentions of persons perceived to oppose the government, including peaceful demonstrators, human rights activists, and political dissidents and their families. They also exercise absolute power over the humanitarian sector in Syria, in practice denying humanitarian access to populations perceived to be anti-government or politically problematic. Syrian intelligence agencies operate outside the law. The intelligence agencies were also reported to be corrupt and to engage in extortion. [Actors, 2.3.2].

The police force is formally under the control of the Ministry of the Interior and it consists of four separate divisions: emergency police, traffic police, neighbourhood police and the riot police. Corruption was reportedly a widespread problem in the police forces. The police were reported to take part in arbitrary home raids and warrants were rarely issued or presented by the police when operating arrests [Actors, 2.3.3].

There are various pro-government militias, both local and foreign, operating in Syria alongside the regular armed forces. Pro-government militias played a key role in the survival of Assad’s government and have been involved in many military offensives and local security enforcement throughout the Syrian civil war. Pro-government militias are largely autonomous and free to exploit the population in areas they control. Violent clashes between pro-government militias for access to and control of territories, and for control of smuggling and extortion networks, have occurred throughout the conflict. Many have reportedly turned into a mafia known for stealing, looting, corruption, gun smuggling, drug smuggling, and committing violations against civilians [Actors, 2.3.4].

Tens of thousands of people have been detained, abducted or have gone missing during Syria’s civil war, including peaceful activists, humanitarian workers, lawyers, journalists, peaceful critics and government opponents, as well as individuals detained in place of relatives wanted by the authorities. The government forces, especially the intelligence branches, used torture against perceived opponents, including women and children. Deaths of thousands of people in government custody have been reported in death registers issued by government authorities. Rape of and sexual violence against women, girls and occasionally men, committed by GoS forces and associated militias during ground operations, raids and in detention have also been reported. Sources have noted that government and allied forces continued to commit war crimes and other serious violations of international humanitarian law, including indiscriminate attacks and direct attacks on civilians and civilian objects [Actors, 2.4]. According to various reports, the government has targeted civilians not only with conventional, but also with chemical weapons [Security 2020, 1.6.1.2, 1.6.1.4; Actors, 2.4].

When assessing the availability of State protection for individual applicants, the implications of leaving Syria should also be taken into account.

In general, the GoS would not be considered an actor of protection meeting the criteria under Article 7 QD. However, in very exceptional cases, it might be established that the GoS is willing and able to provide protection that is effective and non-temporary.

 

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