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Department Seal


TITLE:  SYRIA HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1993                             
DATE:  JANUARY 31, 1994


Syria is ruled by an authoritarian regime which, although it 
maintains some of the trappings of democratic government, 
places virtual absolute authority in the hands of President 
Hafiz Al-Asad.  Key decisions regarding foreign policy, 
national security, and the economy are made by President Asad 
with counsel from his ministers and principal advisers.  
Although the Parliament is elected every 4 years, the Ba'th 
Party is guaranteed a majority.  The Parliament generally does 
not initiate laws but only passes judgment on those proposed by 
the executive.  All three branches of government are guided by 
the views of the Ba'th Party, whose primacy in state 
institutions is mandated by the Constitution.

Except for a hiatus in 1973-74, Syria has been under a state of 
emergency since 1963.  The Government has justified martial law 
by the state of war with Israel and continuing threats posed by 
terrorist groups (Islamic extremist, Iraqi, and Lebanese).  
However, the regime's suppression of all opposition has been so 
effective that antiregime manifestations have been very limited 
in recent years.

The Government maintains an extensive security apparatus.  The 
state of emergency allows this apparatus wide latitude in 
dealing with suspects, detainees, and prisoners.  The several 
main branches of the security services operate independently of 
each other and outside of the legal system.  Each continues to 
be responsible for severe human rights violations.

Syria's mixed economy, based on commerce and agriculture, is 
dominated by an inefficient public sector, but includes growing 
private and mixed sectors.  Oil is a major export.  The regime 
is trying to promote growth in the private sector through 
statutory changes providing incentives, but excessive 
bureaucracy and endemic corruption discourage domestic and 
foreign investment.  Most agricultural land is privately 
owned.  In the 1990's, real economic growth has been about 7 
percent per year.  Annual per capita gross domestic product is 
about $900.

Although the Government released some political prisoners, 
responded to some international inquiries regarding detainees 
and prisoners, loosened exit permit issuance to Syrian Jews, 
and brought hundreds of other cases to trial, thereby ending 
long periods of indefinite detention, there was no basic change 
in the human rights situation in 1993.  Basic human rights 
remain tightly restricted.  It is widely accepted that 
several thousand persons remain imprisoned without trial.  The 
major human rights problems include arbitrary arrest and 
detention, systematic torture, lack of a fair trial in security 
cases, and the denial of the right of citizens to change their 
government as well as the freedoms of speech, press, 
association, and certain worker rights.  Syrian government 
resistance to human rights monitoring makes it difficult to 
know precisely the details and numbers of such abuses.


Section 1  Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including 
           Freedom from:

     a.  Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of executions for political beliefs in 
1993 and no confirmed instances of the Government's 
extrajudicial killing of detainees.  However, given past 
practice and the secrecy that still surround those held at 
various security facilities, the regime may still engage in 
summary executions at such facilities.

There were credible reports of at least three people dying 
while in detention.  The exact cause of death was not 
determined, and families were not allowed to view the remains.  
Human rights groups have received reports questioning whether 
the death in custody of long-time political prisoner and former 
President Salah Jadid was due to natural causes, as claimed by 
the Government, or whether Jadid was killed.  Shakar Tabban, a 
lawyer, reportedly died in December 1992 due to torture and 

     b.  Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances in 1993, but the 
welfare and whereabouts of hundreds of persons held 
incommunicado from previous years remain largely unknown (see 
Section l.d.).  The Government has provided information on a 
small number of those held incommunicado.

     c.  Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading 
         Treatment or Punishment

Although the Constitution prohibits torture and the Penal Code 
provides severe penalties for government officials who engage 
in it, the practice of torture and abuse remains widespread and 
systematic in criminal, political, and security-related cases.  
Released detainees or prisoners have credibly reported that the 
Government maintains facilities specially equipped to inflict 
physical harm on those being held.  Detainees are subjected to 
both physical and psychological abuse.  Torture is used to 
extract information from suspects; in some cases relatives or 
acquaintances of the suspect have been tortured in order to 
obtain information about the suspect.  Among the forms of 
physical abuse practiced by government-employed torturers are 
application of electrical shocks on sensitive parts of the body 
and beatings (sometimes while the victim is bent over and 
suspended from the ceiling in a tire or a chair).  There are no 
known instances of the Government investigating or punishing 
those alleged to have committed torture or abuse.  (See also 
Lebanon report.)

Fifteen members of the Committee for the Defense of Democratic 
Freedoms and Human Rights in Syria (CDF) reportedly went on a 
3-week hunger strike in August to protest their imprisonment 
and alleged torture.

Prison conditions continue to be poor, particularly in older, 
more overcrowded facilities; security prisons are markedly 
worse than civilian prisons.  Medical treatment and facilities 
are inadequate in both types, and injuries and chronic ailments 
from torture, overcrowding, and grossly inadequate sanitation 
and health facilities are either not treated or are treated 

     d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

While the Civil Law Code generally provides for due process, 
these provisions do not apply to security and political 
offenses, which are treated under the State of Emergency Law.  
Under provisions of the state of emergency, the Government 
continues to  suspend normal safeguards and engage in what the 
law calls "preventive arrest."  Persons are arrested secretly 
without warrant, held indefinitely without charge or trial, and 
denied the right to a judicial determination of the basis for 
pretrial detention.  Detainees have no redress for false arrest 
and usually cannot be contacted by family or friends, who most 
often do not know where the detainee is being held.  Some have 
been held without trial for more than 20 years.  Under the 
state of emergency, those suspected of economic-related crimes 
may also be detained without trial or access to counsel or to 
relatives.  Many people who have disappeared are believed to be 
held in the security prisons.  Frequently, the detained person 
is eventually released without being charged.

Even with the reported release of more than 4,000 detainees and 
prisoners (including security detainees and some 60 women 
detainees) in 1991 and 1992, it is still believed that there 
are thousands of political detainees.  The Syrian Government 
has not responded to requests by the U.S. Government and human 
rights organizations for a list of names of those amnestied or 
otherwise released.  Members of Ba'thist organizations and the 
banned Party for Communist Action (PCA) were reportedly among 
those released in recent years.  

The Government released at least eight political prisoners in 
June-July 1993.  In addition, of the six women taken into 
custody in late 1992 and early-to-mid 1993, three were released 
in late 1993.  According to the Government, the other three 
were released earlier, although human rights groups contend 
that these three still remain in detention.  Releases in 1993 
included alleged members of the Kurdish Workers Party as well 
as members of the Party for Communist Action.  One alleged PCA 
member had been detained previously for 5 years, released, and 
rearrested in June.  There were also unconfirmed reports that 
the Government released in November at least 20 members of the 
banned Muslim Brotherhood after long periods of detention.  It 
is possible that some of those released had been tried and 
found guilty by the State Security Court and then released 
because they had already served the periods of incarceration 
imposed in their sentences.

The majority of detainees still held are reputed members of the 
Muslim Brotherhood.  Other detainees are connected with 
factions of the Ba'th Party, the Iraqi wing of the Party, or 
are allegedly associated with the following banned groups:  the 
Party for Communist Action, the Syrian Communist Party 
Political Bureau, the Arab Socialist Union Party in Syria, and 
the Nasserist Democratic Popular Organization.  A group known 
as the Islamic Unification Movement claimed that 120 of its 
members were being detained.  The Government has used the 
possession of material from banned political organizations as a 
frequent pretext for detention.

The Government is known to have detained the relatives of 
suspects in both criminal and security cases as a means of 
compelling individuals being sought by authorities to surrender.

Although the Government has exiled persons in the past, there 
have been no reported instances of exile for several years.

     e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial

The court system comprises separate civil courts; penal and 
criminal courts, whose jurisdiction includes economic crimes; 
and religious, military, security, and constitutional courts.  
There are major differences between the types of Syrian courts 
in terms of respect for human rights.

Persons charged with security or political offenses fall under 
the jurisdiction of the military-controlled State Security 
Court, established in 1968.  Defendants in this Court have few 
safeguards of their rights; court sessions are generally closed 
(although an international observer was allowed to attend the 
sentencing portion of a prominent trial in 1992, and Amnesty 
International representatives attended sessions of some trials 
in May 1993); defendants have no say in the selection of a 
lawyer, who is chosen by the court; defense attorneys are 
unable to consult with their clients outside the courtroom or 
to call witnesses to refute prosecution charges; and the 
Government does not allow for independent medical examinations 
of the defendants to determine whether physical abuse has 
occurred during pretrial detention.  The Government does not 
generally release information on the trial or sentencing, but 
relatives with influence in the Government sometimes succeed in 
obtaining information and even effecting the release of the 
accused.  The sentences are not subject to appeal, but the 
President may nullify, alter, or confirm State Security Court 

A special military Field Court, created during the period of 
the Muslim Brotherhood rebellion in the early 1980's, 
reportedly still exists to deal with serious security 
offenses.  As part of the Government's general crackdown on 
smuggling, the Field Court reportedly tried cases involving 
arms trafficking in 1993.  The accused is not permitted legal 
representation at Field Court proceedings, which are held in 

Regular civil and criminal courts are under the jurisdiction of 
the Ministry of Justice.  The accused in a criminal case is 
detained provisionally upon the accusation of the public 
prosecutor, then remanded to a judge for arraignment.  The 
judge may either dismiss the charges on the basis of 
insufficient evidence or refer the case to a criminal court.  
Defendants in civil and criminal courts are entitled to legal 
representation of their choice.  If they cannot afford a 
lawyer, one will be appointed by the court.  These courts 
impose no restrictions on lawyers representing their clients 
and allow the right of appeal to criminal or civil appellate 
courts found in each province.  Criminal courts also provide 
for bail.  In noncontroversial cases, courts are normally free 
of governmental coercion, although the Government can bring 
pressure to bear if it wishes to do so.  Defendants in criminal 
cases are allowed to present evidence and confront their 
accusers.  Trials are public, except for cases involving 
juveniles or for crimes such as rape.  Cases are tried before a 
judge; there is no jury system.  The slow and cumbersome legal 
system can leave suspects languishing in prison for months.  
Following the fire in Hassakeh prison in May, the alleged 
perpetrators were rapidly executed, raising questions as to 
whether they had been afforded due process.

According to the Constitution, the High Constitutional Court 
investigates and rules on petitions submitted by the President 
or at least one-fourth of the members of the People's Assembly 
challenging the constitutionality of laws or legislative 
decrees.  It has no appellate jurisdiction over cases from the 
civil or criminal courts.

Human rights groups estimated that in 1993 some 330 to 500 
cases of political detainees were brought before the State 
Security Court.  Many of those tried in 1993 reportedly had 
been imprisoned for 10 or more years before trial.  One human 
rights group estimated that the State Security Court handed 
down about 60 sentences between July 1992 and May 1993.

The defendants in many of these trials were reportedly accused 
of membership or participation in the activities of banned 
political organizations whose activities the Government claims 
include the forcing of political change through violence.  Some 
of the alleged activities do not include violence but rather 
opposition to the objectives of the Ba'th Party or the 
dissemination of false information which could weaken the 
people's confidence in the objectives of the Ba'th revolution.  
At least 34 defendants were found guilty of disseminating false 
information, receiving money from abroad, or withholding 
information from the authorities.  Those tried in 1993 included 
members of a Syrian human rights group, the Committee for the 
Defense of Democratic Freedoms and Human Rights in Syria (CDF), 
and those accused of membership in the banned Party for 
Communist Action.

While the defendants in the 5 CDF cases tried in 1993 had not 
yet been sentenced at year's end, the 10 CDF members found 
guilty in 1992 received sentences ranging from 5 to 10 years.  
Some sentences specified the "deprivation of civil liberties" 
after prison sentences are completed; such deprivations 
reportedly include prohibitions on foreign travel and holding 
government positions.  Twenty-four members of the PCA were also 
found guilty and sentenced to between 10 and 15 years in 
prison, some with forced labor.  The Government charged that 
the PCA sought to change the government by violence and opposed 
the objectives of the Ba'thist Revolution.  One CDF defendant, 
the writer Nizar Nayyuf, was convicted for his alleged 
activities in the CDF and for having circulated a leaflet 
reportedly questioning the legitimacy of the 1991 presidential 
referendum.  The court found him guilty of disseminating false 
information that would undermine public confidence in the Ba'th 
revolution.  Nayyuf was awarded one of the Pen Freedom to Write 
awards in May 1993.  Another trial involved an engineer, Sayih 
Khayr Bek, who had been detained since 1980 when the regime 
cracked down on professional associations that had organized a 
national strike to protest the state of emergency.

The Government does not release information on the number of 
persons detained or imprisoned for political or security 
offenses, but credible estimates run from 3,800 to 9,000 
(including persons held in Syrian detention facilities in 
Lebanon).  The Government continues to contend that persons are 
detained not because of their political beliefs but because of 
criminal acts or actions that violate the state of emergency.  
It is clear, however, that many persons have been jailed 
without charge or as a result of unfair trials for nonviolent 
opposition to the regime.

In June and July the Government released at least eight 
political prisoners, several of them prominent figures.  These 
included four former ministers and at least three Jordanian 
members of the Ba'th Party-February 23 Movement (supporters of 
former Syrian Leader Salah Jadid, who was imprisoned after the 
coup that brought Hafiz Al-Asad to power in 1970).  The 
Jordanians, Majli Nasrawin, Hakim Al-Fayez, and Yusuf Al-Burji, 
had spent 23 years in prison.  One human rights group says that 
seven Ba'th Party political prisoners remain in a special wing 
of Mezze prison.  All reportedly continue to be allowed monthly 
family visits under guard in government rest houses in 
Damascus.  (See Section l.a. on the death of Salah Al-Jadid in 
custody.)  Of six female political prisoners taken into custody 
in late 1992 and 1993, three were reportedly released in late 
1993.  Although human rights organizations contend that the 
other three were still being held in Duma women's prison at the 
end of 1993, the Syrian Government claims that these three were 
released earlier.

The Government does not permit access to prisoners by 
international humanitarian organizations.

     f.  Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 

Although the legal system provides nominal safeguards, 
including the requirement of an arrest or search warrant before 
police are allowed to enter private homes, regulations under 
the state of emergency suspend these protections in 
security-related cases.  Domestic intelligence organizations 
maintain a network of guards to protect officials and important 
buildings, as well as to monitor the activity of people living 
in the neighborhoods of protected officials.  The presence of 
police and security officials is pervasive, especially in 
Damascus, although some observers say it is less pronounced 
than it was several years ago.

Security checkpoints can be set up anywhere by government 
authorities.  Security personnel require no warrant for search 
or arrest in dealing with persons stopped at such locations.  
Security forces at the checkpoints are mostly concerned with 
clandestine shipments of weapons and subversive literature but 
also search for smuggled goods, including drugs.

It is generally accepted that telephone conversations and 
facsimile transmissions are selectively monitored and that 
conversations are sometimes recorded.  The Government-run 
postal system selectively censors the mail, including foreign 

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

     a.  Freedom of Speech and Press

This freedom is sharply limited.  The Government does not 
permit criticism of the President and the regime's legitimacy.  
Some controlled criticism of the Party and the performance of 
government ministries is allowed.

In 1992 and 1993 trials, the Government accused CDF members of 
"committing acts against the goals of the March 8, 1963, 
revolution."  The group had distributed leaflets critical of 
the handling of the 1991 referendum which granted President 
Asad his fourth 7-year term.  Approximately 200 Kurds were 
reportedly arrested in October 1992 for distributing a pamphlet 
which marked the 30th anniversary of the Government's never 
completed effort to move the Kurds out of the northeastern part 
of Syria and which purportedly depicted an idealized Kurdish 
state extending southward into Syria; 30 of these Kurds were 
said to remain in detention in 1993.  Several journalists have 
been in detention for long periods, some for more than 10 years.

The Government or the Ba'th Party wholly owns and operates all 
newspaper publishing houses and strictly controls the 
dissemination of information.  Censorship of foreign and 
domestic news is exercised through offices in the Ministries of 
Information and Culture and National Guidance.  Subjects deemed 
by the Government contrary to its interests are not permitted 
to be discussed in the press.  In 1993 censored subjects 
included Syria's human rights record, allegations of Syria's 
involvement in the Lebanese drug trade, and various aspects of 
Syria's continuing political and security role in Lebanon.  Any 
criticism of government policies or performance usually has 
received official approval, and officials above the middle rank 
are rarely criticized.  There was slightly more openness in the 
media's coverage of the Middle East peace process than in the 

The Government also owns the broadcast media.  Reports on 
sensitive subjects are not broadcast, and new television 
programs scheduled for broadcast must be approved by the 
Minister of Information.  Radio broadcasts from neighboring 
countries, including Israel and Iraq, may be received in 
Syria.  Foreign television may be received, although only with 
special equipment in many areas.  Syria prohibits the reception 
of Jordanian television in Syria by technical means.  Imported 
printed material and films are subject to censorship.  Articles 
critical of Syria or Syria's role in Lebanon are occasionally 
deleted from foreign magazines and newspapers before 
distribution.  Fiction and nonfiction literature is censored if 
it is considered overly critical of Syria, offensive to one of 
Syria's religious groups, or too graphic in its description of 
sex.  Control is particularly strict on materials in Arabic.  
Films are censored for a variety of reasons, such as 
unfavorable interpretations of the Middle East conflict, 
sectarianism, or the use of actors or production companies 
targeted by the Arab boycott of Israel.

The Government closely controls public schools at all levels.  
The Education Ministry dictates the curriculum followed by the 
primary and secondary schools run by the United Nations Relief 
and Works Agency (UNRWA) for the Palestinian refugees, as well 
as those operated by minority religious groups, and these 
schools are subject to regular inspection.  In all schools, an 
hour each day is devoted to instruction on Syrian patriotism.  
Teachers are not permitted to express ideas contrary to 
government policy, although some freedom of expression is 
tolerated at the university level.

     b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Public meetings, assemblies, or demonstrations may be held only 
with official permission and are usually held at the 
instigation of the Government or the Ba'th Party.  This policy 
is also applied in the 13 Palestinian refugee camps in Syria.  
Private societies, including religious groups, are allowed to 
meet if they have received government permission to organize.  
Such permission is usually granted, but only for nonpolitical 

The Government closely controls the activities of professional 
associations.  The Ba'th Party must be notified in advance of 
association meetings.  In 1980 several professional 
associations (doctors, lawyers, and engineers) were dissolved 
after striking and calling for an end to the state of 
emergency; numerous professionals were detained at the time. 
Although the associations have been reconstituted with 
government appointees, and some of the detainees have been 
released, others remain in detention without trial.  At least 
one of these detainees had his case brought before the State 
Security Court at the turn of the year. 

     c.  Freedom of Religion

There is no state religion, but nearly two-thirds of Syrians 
are Sunni Muslim.  As a concession to Muslims who object to 
Ba'thi secularism, the 1973 Constitution requires that the 
President be Muslim.  Moreover, the Constitution refers to 
Islamic jurisprudence as a principal source of legislation.   
Otherwise, no official preference is given to one religion over 
another, and the Government officially observes all major 
Christian and Muslim holidays.  Ba'thi secular ideology and 
modernizing influences have had some impact in diminishing the 
importance attached to religion and ethnicity, but individual 
Syrians continue to identify themselves by their communal 
associations.  Most religious groups, including Syria's small 
Jewish community, are largely free to practice their 
religions.  The Government closely controls fund raising, the 
construction of worship sites, and the holding of all meetings 
except for worship but generally permits such activities under 
restrictive conditions.  Religious training in the language of 
the religion is permitted within the curriculum for Jews and 
Christians in Jewish and Armenian schools.  Non-Muslim groups 
maintain links with coreligionists outside Syria.  
Interreligious groups visit Syria periodically and meet Syrians 
of all faiths.  One such group met with Foreign Minister Shara 
in 1993.

One exception to the official policy of religious tolerance is 
the treatment of Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh-Day 
Adventists, who are forbidden to organize formally or own 
church property.  Despite these prohibitions, individual 
followers of these religions are allowed to practice their 
religion privately.

Foreign missionaries are permitted to preach and minister.  
While proselytizing and conversion are not legally proscribed, 
in practice, the Government discourages such activities aimed 
at Muslims.  The publication of religious material is subject 
to the same controls as secular material.

     d.  Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign 
         Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Internal travel is restricted in the security zone of the
Golan Heights and occasionally near the borders with Lebanon, 
Jordan, and Iraq.  Syrian women over the age of 18 have the 
legal right to travel without the prior approval of male 
relatives, but in practice the husband may file a request with 
the Ministry of Interior to prohibit his wife's departure from 
Syria.  Similarly, a father may request that the Ministry 
prohibit travel abroad by unmarried daughters, even if they are 
over 18 years of age.

In general, the Government restricts foreign travel for 
citizens liable for military service and for certain categories 
of professionals trained at public expense who have not 
completed required government service.  Students traveling 
abroad for higher education must obtain permission from the 
Foreign Ministry and, like all Syrians, are subject to recall 
by the Government.  Travel to Israel, with which Syria remains 
in a state of war, is illegal for all Syrian citizens.  Druze 
inhabitants of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights may visit 
relatives in Syria under a system operated by the International 
Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC); Syria has set an annual 
quota of 120 adult visitors per year.  In October the 
Government denied the Druze permission to attend the funeral of 
a Druze spiritual leader in the Golan Heights.  Thereafter, 
however, between late October and the end of the year, the 
Government allowed some 300 Golan Heights Druze to enter Syria 
at al Qunaitra, according to the press, although it continued 
to refuse to let Druze living in Syria cross into the Golan 

In April 1992, President Asad issued a decision permitting 
Syrian Jews freedom of travel; by the end of 1993, the 
Government had granted exit permits to more than 85 percent of 
the Jewish community.  Between October 1992 and mid-December 
1993, exit permits were issued at a substantially lower rate 
than in the period from April to October 1992.  By 
mid-December, the Government had again accelerated the issuance 
rate.  There were 500-600 Syrian Jews who had applied for exit 
permits but had not received responses to their applications at 
the end of 1993.  Syrian Jews no longer need to post a bond to 
ensure their return.

Palestinians sometimes encounter difficulties obtaining the 
requisite travel document.  Moreover, travel restrictions are 
sometimes imposed on them.  For example, one young Palestinian 
married to a Syrian was not allowed to return to Syria to 
rejoin his wife after a trip to a neighboring Arab country.  
Any Syrian caught trying to emigrate or travel abroad without 
permission, or suspected of having visited Israel illegally, 
may be arrested and prosecuted.

There is a credible estimate that the Syrian Government has 
withdrawn Syrian nationality from between 90,000 and 120,000 
Kurds since the 1960's.

In addition to 330,000 Palestinian refugees, many of whom have 
been born in Syria, there are also at least 4,700 Iraqi 
nationals, half of them Iraqi Christians, currently registered 
at a refugee camp in northeastern Syria operated under the 
auspices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees 
(UNHCR).  There are over 500 Somali refugees at the same camp.  
Residents of the camp have been allowed to leave the camp 
freely and seek employment in neighboring areas.

Section 3  Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens 
           to Change Their Government

Syrians do not have the ability to change their government 
legally and peacefully.  President Asad and his senior advisers 
effectively control all aspects of political and economic 
life.  The ruling Ba'th Party, which emphasizes socialism and 
secular Arabism, is dominated by the military.  In recent 
years, the Party has served principally to legitimize President 
Asad's rule.

Although the Government seeks to build national rather than 
ethnic identity, ethnic, religious, and regional allegiances 
remain important.  Members of President Asad's own sect, the 
Alawis, hold most of the important military and security 
positions.  President Asad's fourth 7-year term will expire in 
March 1999.  Women play a significant but not a leading role in 
government.  Two of the 29 ministers in the present Cabinet are 
women; 21 of 250 parliamentarians are women.  Women are also 
active in Ba'th party "popular organizations."

Section 4  Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
           Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations 
           of Human Rights

There are no human rights groups legally operating inside 
Syria, and the Government actively discourages the formation of 
any such organizations.  Most Syrians are afraid to criticize 
their government publicly for human rights violations, and 
several members of a now banned human rights group, the CDF, 
have been imprisoned (see Section l.e.).

The Government continues to deny charges of human rights 
violations, often ignoring them or calling them an intrusion 
into its internal affairs.  However, in a departure from past 
practice, the Government responded in 1993 to some written 
inquiries on detainees and prisoners.  An ad hoc government  
committee on human rights determined whether and, if so, how to 
respond to inquiries regarding individual cases.  In some 
cases, the Government claimed that the people in question were 
no longer being held or that they were never held.  It 
responded to some inquiries from foreign governments on 
specific cases, although it has not provided a list of those 
released in the 1991 and 1992 amnesties.

Two representatives from Amnesty International (AI) were 
allowed to visit Damascus in December 1992.  The AI team 
focused, in part, on ongoing State Security Court proceedings; 
the team met with judges hearing a variety of these trials and 
with defense attorneys and relatives of the defendants.  One of 
the trials the delegation had planned to attend was postponed.  
The team also met with Syrian officials on other human rights 
matters.  Another AI delegation visited Syria again in May 1993 
to observe sessions of State Security Court trials of some 
defendants arrested between 1980 and 1992 in connection with 
banned political groups.  

Section 5  Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, 
           Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution in principle provides for equal rights and 
equal opportunity for all Syrian citizens.  In practice, 
membership in the Ba'th Party or close familial relations with 
a prominent Ba'th Party member can be important to prospering 
in Syria.  Party connections can pave the way for entrance into 
better elementary and secondary schools, access to more 
lucrative employment, and greater power in the Government.  


Syrian law stipulates that the State is to provide equal 
opportunity to women and is to remove impediments that hinder 
the development of women and their full participation in 
society.  Government policies include equal pay for similar 
work and encourage the enrollment of women at all levels of 

Nonetheless, traditional concepts of male guardianship of women 
continue to prevail in many segments of the society.  These 
concepts often limit a woman's rights in matters of marriage, 
divorce, child custody, inheritance, and personal decisions.  
Moreover, the Government accords religious authorities or 
courts the right to rule on the majority of matters involving 
social and interpersonal relations.  Under Islamic laws of 
inheritance, the male offspring receive a disproportionate 
share of the inheritance.

Wife beating and other physical abuse of women are known to 
occur, but conservative social mores in Syrian society 
discourage public discussion of the issue, making it difficult 
to estimate the extent of the problem.  There are no official 
or unofficial statistics on domestic abuse.  Under the legal 
system, women have access through the courts to redress any 
grievance caused by violent acts against them.  There has been 
an indeterminate, although almost certainly small, number of 
court actions involving spousal abuse.  The vast majority of 
incidents involving abuse probably go unreported because of the 
social stigma attached to legal proceedings in such cases.  
Incidents are usually handled within the family where a 
husband's physical abuse of his wife is criticized and viewed 
with shame.  Outside the family and the courts, the Syrian 
Women's Federation also offers a mechanism to help solve 
individual family problems.  


Syrian law stresses the need to protect children and ensure 
conditions favorable to the development of their faculties.  
The Government mandates education through the sixth grade and 
provides optional but tuition-free education at higher levels.  
Although the quality of health care varies among regions and 
facilities, children are provided treatment free or at 
relatively nominal charge.  The Government attempts to enforce 
legislation restricting child labor and to protect the 
institution of the family, although violations of these laws 
still occur.  Violence against children warrants tough legal 
penalties as well as social stigma.

     National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Syria's Palestinian population, estimated at 330,000 (296,000 
of whom were registered with UNRWA as of mid-1992), 
occasionally suffers some forms of discrimination.  Although 
Palestinians enjoy many of the same rights as Syrian nationals, 
they are considered to be temporary residents, pending 
resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict.  While generally free 
of socioeconomic restrictions, they may not vote in Syrian 
elections or obtain Syrian citizenship except through marriage 
to a Syrian male.  For the most part, Palestinians are 
integrated into Syrian society.  The largest Palestinian camp 
is, in fact, a neighborhood of Damascus.

The Government has placed limits on the use and teaching of the 
Kurdish language, on Kurdish cultural expression and, at times, 
on the celebration of Kurdish festivals.

     Religious Minorities

Although the Constitution stipulates respect for all religions, 
there are various forms of discrimination against religious 
minorities.  Under the Constitution, the President must be 
Muslim.  Religion is also a factor in determining the 
opportunities available to Syrian citizens.  For example, 
members of the Alawi sect, President Asad's religious group, 
generally enjoy job preference in the Government.

Though Jews hold some low-level government jobs, such as clerks 
and teachers, they are generally barred from government 
service.  They are also prohibited from joining the military, 
and Jewish professionals are exempt from the requirement to 
give the 5 years of government service expected of other 
Syrians trained at public expense.  Jews are the only minority 
whose passports note their religion.  They are under more 
thorough surveillance by the intelligence services than is the 
general population.

Although all Syrians--regardless of religion--are theoretically 
required to follow Islamic laws of inheritance, in practice 
non-Muslims are usually able to arrange their own distribution 
of inheritances.

     People with Disabilities

Syrian law is intended to assure the integration of handicapped 
persons into the public sector work force, although practical 
problems hinder its implementation.  The Government has not 
enacted special legislation to benefit the disabled.  However, 
it allows the disabled to import specially equipped cars with 
none of the normal vehicle import restrictions except the 
mandatory payment of customs fees.

Section 6  Worker Rights

     a.  The Right of Association

Although the 1973 Constitution provides for the right of the 
"popular sectors" of society to form trade unions, and the 
General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU) is purportedly an 
independent organization, in practice the Government uses it as 
a framework for controlling nearly all aspects of union 
activity.  Effectively, workers are not free to form labor 
unions independent of the government-prescribed structure.  All 
public sector employees join the GFTU union as a condition of 
employment.  Approximately half of all private sector workers 
belong to unions.  Agricultural workers are not unionized.

As with other organizations dominated by the Ba'th Party, the 
GFTU is charged with providing opinions on legislation, 
devising rules for workers, and organizing labor.  The elected 
president of the GFTU is a senior member of the ruling Ba'th 
Party and a member of the Regional Command.  With his Deputy, 
he participates in all meetings of the Cabinet's ministerial 
committees on economic affairs.  According to GFTU officials, 
the secretaries general of the eight professional unions, some 
of whom are not Ba'th Party members, are each elected by the 
respective union's membership.  While the unions are used 
primarily to transmit instructions and information to the labor 
force from the Syrian leadership, elected union leaders also 
act as a conduit through which workers' dissatisfaction is 
transmitted to the leadership.

Strikes are not legislatively prohibited (except in the 
agricultural sector), but in practice they are actively and 
effectively discouraged.  While the right to strike exists, 
there does not appear to be specific legal protection from 
antistrike retribution.  Since there is labor participation on 
all public sector boards of directors, public sector strikes do 
not occur.  There were occasional work stoppages in the private 
sector, but wage disputes were usually settled informally 
through negotiations between employers and employees or through 
resort to legal action based on wage laws.  Private sector 
employers may fire any employee at any time, although they are 
required to pay severance and prescribed social security 
benefits.  There were no reported strikes in 1993, as was also 
the case in 1991 and 1992.  A number of workers who attempted 
to strike in 1980 remain in prison.  One worker, who had been 
in detention for 13 years for involvement in a strike in 1980, 
was brought to trial at the end of 1992 and found guilty and 
sentenced to prison in 1993.  According to an April 1993 
International Confederation of Free Trade Unions report, some 
of the 68 members of the Syrian Engineers' Association, who 
were arrested along with members of the Doctors' Association 
because of a 1980 strike action, were released under the 1991 
and 1992 amnesties.  Others reportedly remained in detention in 

While noting that the Government has under consideration a 
draft legislative decree containing some improvements, the 
International Labor Organization's Committee of Experts  
reiterated its regret in its annual report that there are no 
plans to move away from the single trade union system or to 
repeal the ban on strikes in the agricultural sector.

The GFTU is affiliated with the International Confederation of 
Arab Trade Unions.

     b.  The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

In the public sector, unions do not normally bargain 
collectively on wage issues, but union representatives 
participate with the representatives of the employers and the 
respective ministry to establish sectoral minimum wages 
according to legally prescribed cost-of-living levels.  Workers 
make up the majority of each board of directors in public 
enterprises, and union representation is always included on the 
boards, although the boards are firmly under government 
control.  Unions also monitor and enforce compliance with the 
Labor Law.

Under the law, the unions in the private sector may engage in 
negotiations for collective contracts with employers.  The 
Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor sets minimum wages in 
consultation with the GFTU.  Unions have the right to litigate 
contracts with employers and the right to litigate in defense 
of their own interests or those of their members (individually 
or collectively) in cases involving labor relations.  Union 
organizations may also claim a right to arbitration.

Most workers are protected by law from antiunion 
discrimination, and there were no reports of its being 
practiced (see also Section 6.e.).  However, there is no union 
representation in Syria's seven free trade zones, and firms in 
the zones are exempt from Syrian laws and regulations governing 
the hiring and firing of workers, though some provisions 
concerning occupational health and safety, hours, and sick and 
annual leave apply.

     c.  Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

There is no law banning forced or compulsory labor; such 
practices may be imposed in punishment, usually in connection 
with prison sentences for criminal offenses, under the Economic 
Penal Code, the Penal Code, the Agricultural Labor Code, and 
the Press Act.  Such compulsory labor is usually in the 
handicraft industry.

     d.  Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum age in the public sector is 14, though it is higher 
in certain industries.  The minimum age varies more widely in 
the private sector.  The absolute minimum is 12, with parental 
permission required for children under age 16 to work.  
Children are forbidden to work at night.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor is responsible for 
enforcing minimum age requirements but lacks an adequate number 
of labor investigators.  In February a Syrian newspaper 
reported frankly on the widespread use of child labor in 
several factories in one of Syria's largest cities.  The report 
noted that Syrian law prohibited such practices and called for 
Ministry of Social Affairs officials to investigate.  Work 
hours of young employees are limited, compared to those of the 
regular work force.

     e.  Acceptable Conditions of Work

As mandated in the Constitution, the Government legislatively 
establishes minimum and maximum wage limits in the public 
sector and sets limits on maximum allowable overtime for public 
sector employees.  The minimum wage, as set most recently in 
1989, was $40 a month plus subsidies for staples and bonuses 
depending on rank and type of job.  The minimum wage is not 
adequate to support a worker and his family, and, as a result, 
many workers take additional jobs, open businesses, or rely on 
extended families for support.  There is no single minimum wage 
in the private sector for permanent employees.  According to 
the 1959 Labor Law, minimum wage levels in the private sector 
are set by sector and are fixed by the Minister of Social 
Affairs and Labor.  Recommendations are put to the Minister by 
a committee that includes representatives of the Ministries of 
Industry and Economy, as well as representatives of the 
Employers' Association and the Employees' Unions.  In practice, 
private sector monthly minimums are not less than those in the 
public sector.  In both sectors, the Ministry of Social Affairs 
and Labor is responsible for enforcing minimum wage levels and 
does so effectively.  The courts are also available to settle 
wage dispute cases, although the adjudication process can take 
months or even years.  In the private sector, wage disputes are 
settled by union/worker negotiations with management or by 
resort to the courts.

The statutory workweek consists of six 6-hour days, although in 
certain fields in which workers are not continuously busy, a 
9-hour day is permitted.  Labor laws also mandate a full 
24-hour rest day per week.

The Labor Law extensively regulates conditions of work.  There 
are rules and regulations that severely limit the ability of an 
employer to fire an employee without due cause, an issue that 
the employer may take to a labor committee.  Labor committees 
are composed of representatives of the municipality, the 
Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor, and the union, as well as 
a judge and the employer.  In the majority of cases, labor 
committees have decided in favor of the employee.  Workers, 
once hired, cannot easily be fired.  In practice, workers also 
have exercised their right to contest planned dismissals in the 
labor committees.  One exception in the heavily regulated labor 
field relates to day laborers.  They are not subject to minimum 
wage regulations and receive disability compensation only for 
job-related injuries.  Small private firms and businesses 
commonly employ day laborers in order to avoid the costs of 
permanent employees.

Public laws mandate safety standards in all sectors, and 
managers are expected to implement them fully.  A special 
department of the Social Security establishment works at the 
provincial level with inspectors from the Ministries of Health 
and Labor to ensure compliance with safety standards.  In the 
private sector, unions are active in monitoring compliance with 
the laws and ensuring workers' health and safety.  Workers have 
occasionally brought employers before judicially empowered 
labor committees to seek improvements in working conditions 
that affect their health.  Workers have the right to remove 
themselves from dangerous situations without jeopardy to their 
continued employment.  However, there is no statutory language 
defining "dangerous situations."

Foreign workers theoretically receive the same benefits but are 
often reluctant to press claims because their workers' permits 
may be withdrawn at any time.  Moreover, many work illegally 
and are not covered by the government system.  In the latter 
half of 1993, the Government began denying extensions of 
domestic workers' temporary residency permits, thereby forcing 
them to leave the country.  However, the Government soon 
rescinded this policy.

[end of document]


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