Abuses mount in SNA-held areas; popular anger due to lack of accountability
Enab Baladi – Hassan Ibrahim
Frequent violations and assaults have been committed by the security services of the opposition factions or by military units and groups operating in the areas controlled by the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA).
The continuation of such violations was not limited by the presence of the judiciary, military and civilian police, and several reconciliation committees entrusted with holding the violators accountable, prosecuting wanted persons, and working to address citizens’ complaints.
Following demonstrations for humanitarian and service reasons recently, cases of attacks by the security services against civilians and media professionals were recorded, followed by widespread interaction and demands for accountability.
It was also accompanied by statements condemning the assaults that took place and criticisms that these practices “simulate” the practices of the Syrian regime’s security services.
Several security and military agencies are active in the SNA-held areas, which include the northern and eastern countryside of Aleppo and the cities of Ras al-Ain and Tal Abyad in northeastern Syria. These agencies are affiliated with the National Army with many names and different flags, which periodically announce operations, whether security or military and set up some barriers on the main roads or at the entrances to the markets.
Student and journalist assaulted
A video recording published by local networks on 7 August showed that the Civil Police in the city of Azaz, in the northern countryside of Aleppo, attacked a high school student after he was prevented from writing on the wall of the Education Directorate, where a number of students tried to free the student.
A group of students had gone out in a demonstration to reject the decisions of the Directorate of Education and to protest against the results of high school.
The assault received wide response, after which the Azaz Security Directorate issued a statement clarifying the circumstances of the incident, without any comment on the accountability of the officer who hit the young man, after numerous demands for his accountability.
Local networks circulated the hashtag “Do not write on the wall,” which is the phrase that the officer said to the student before assaulting him and pushing him by hand, and this was accompanied by a wave of condemnation and anger by a group of activists on social media, because of what the police officer did against the student, describing his act as “thugness” simulating the actions of the security forces in the Syrian regime, calling for an end to these abuses and holding the perpetrators accountable.
Also, media activist and al-Jazeera correspondent Malik Abu Obeida, and a group of activists and journalists with him, were attacked by members of the police while covering the protests of the medical sector in the city of al-Bab in the eastern countryside of Aleppo on 1 August.
Abu Obeida posted on his Facebook account a video and photos showing the moment of the police assault on him and a group of activists and journalists during protests carried out by medical workers in the cities of al-Bab, al-Rai, and Afrin, northern Syria, to demand better salaries for doctors and nurses in the region’s hospitals, and to denounce the bad treatment of administrators in public hospitals.
After meeting with a number of journalists after the incident, al-Bab City Police Command pledged to hold the perpetrators of the attack accountable and not to repeat such incidents.
The protector is the perpetrator
Violations committed by leaders and elements in the areas of the National Army are not new, and after each incident, a wave of criticism and accusations of the judiciary’s inability and absence and demands for justice and accountability for the perpetrators of violations begins.
The military police released Mohammad Hassan al-Mustafa, a former member of the Syrian regime forces and suspect of committing war violations, in exchange for a fine of 1,500 US dollars, mediated by Hamido al-Juhaishi, a senior commander in the Sultan Murad Division, a key unit in the National Army.
The decision was signed by the head of the Military Police Branch, Colonel Abdul Latif al-Ahmad, but the Military Police re-arrested al-Mustafa hours later, following a huge wave of anger from the residents that was reflected on social media.
After the incident, many voices rejecting the process of releasing the accused appeared, describing the incident as a “betrayal of the blood of the martyrs,” and everyone who defends the “regime thugs” is a “gangster” like them.
This was followed by the issuance of several statements of condemnation and demands for accountability by local authorities and personalities.
The Revolutionaries for Liberation commission, an alliance of local factions operating under the SNA banner, referred the leader involved in the release of al-Mustafa to the military judiciary to complete investigations and judicial procedures against him, only to release him after a week without any explanations.
The director of the Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ) organization, Bassam al-Ahmad, told Enab Baladi that the involvement of members or parties, whether in the Syrian Interim Government (SIG), the political umbrella of the SNA or other factions or agencies affiliated with it, in these violations hinder accountability.
“The perpetrator of the violation is the guilty party and the judge,” al-Ahmad said, pointing out the absence of a clear and strong administrative and judicial system amid the multiplicity of factions and groups, each of which has a different method of arbitration.
According to al-Ahmad, the crisis situation was contributed by the lack of accountability in areas where chaos prevails, where each armed faction behaves as if it were an “entity and state” on the ground, in addition to the existence of a paralyzed judicial system involved in issuing unfair verdicts.
Wissam al-Qusoum, spokesman for the Committee for the Restitution of Grievances and Rights,” also known as the Joint Committee for the Restoration of Rights in Afrin and its countryside,” told Enab Baladi that the factions and corps command of the Interim Government’s Defense Ministry are responsible for the actions of individuals who may cause any abuse or violation, and hold them accountable through the competent institutions.
In previous incidents, a number of faction leaders contacted the competent judiciary to implement the judicial warrants or judgments issued against the fighters of the SNA, according to al-Qusoum, who stressed the need to work to prevent abuses that might occur by spreading awareness among the SNA fighters and strengthening judicial institutions, and support them, and firmly hold those who commit any abuse to accountability.
The Committee for the Restitution of Grievances and Rights, founded in September 2020, has emerged as a body that aims to restore rights that were violated by several military factions and to find appropriate solutions to problems.
No accountability; documentation is a must
The case of the controversial leader of the Sultan Suleiman Shah Division (al-Amshat), Mohammed al-Jassem (Abu Amsha), surfaced in late 2021, who was not tried in the countryside of Aleppo despite his conviction for a number of violations.
On the contrary, Abu Amsha held a new military position in another faction.
On 10 December 2021, a tripartite “impartial” committee was formed to investigate the violations of the al-Amshat faction.
After two months of investigation, during which it conducted 45 sessions and more than 12 hours of sessions per day and interrogating 85 persons, including plaintiffs, defendants, and witnesses, the committee proved the violations of the faction and its leader and took decisions that it requested to be implemented, but Abu Amsha was not held accountable by any judicial body.
The director of Syrians for Truth and Justice does not see any prospect for holding the perpetrators of violations accountable since the matter is not limited to the SNA-held areas.
Al-Ahmad considered that the real accountability for any perpetrator of violations is evident in the event of an international, hybrid, or national tribunal, independent and capable of trial.
There is chaos in the areas of the SNA that does not match the philosophy or concept of states, according to al-Ahmad.
The presence of Shariah or national committees or bodies that are formed at every incident is evidence of the weakness and inability of the judiciary, as it is restricted to solving problems related to a quarrel or other matters, he added.
Local Judicial bodies are unable to hold accountable for major violations such as war crimes and crimes against humanity since that requires documenting violations, hoping to achieve accountability and return rights to their owners when conditions are available, al-Ahmad concluded.
The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) documented the killing of four civilians, including two children and a woman, at the hands of the Syrian National Army factions during July. It documented 28 cases of arrest and detention, including four women. Six were released, and 22 of the detainees were forcibly disappeared.
On 5 August, Syrians for Truth and Justice documented the arrest of at least 311 people, including 12 women and children, in the Afrin region, north of Aleppo, during the first six months of 2022.
Of the total number of detainees, 282 were released, and at least two people died, according to the human rights group, which indicated that the number of detainees includes only people who have been transferred to detention centers of the security services of the SNA factions.
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