The Assad regime is punishing entire families of people placed arbitrarily on a list of alleged terrorists by freezing their assets, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday.
“The expansive reach of Decree 63 shows how threatened the Syrian government feels by the mere expression of humanitarian activism and dissent,” said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Syria should stop using the counterterrorism law in arbitrary ways that amount to collective punishment.”
Human Rights Watch spoke to four people who have been affected, the relative of another, and a former land registration employee. These cases involved former residents of Eastern Ghouta, Aleppo, and the Damascus countryside, areas that government forces had retaken from anti-government groups between 2014 and 2019.
Human Rights Watch also examined documents circulating online with lists of names of hundreds of people whose assets were frozen under the counterterrorism law.
“By penalizing people solely on the basis of their family relationship with an accused person, and not on the basis of their individual criminal responsibility, the Finance Ministry’s implementation of Decree 63 constitutes collective punishment, which is prohibited under international humanitarian and human rights law in all circumstances,” HRW said.
“The decree also violates due process guarantees in that the law provides no appeal and no official notification for those on the list. By allowing the government to seize individuals’ property without due process or notice, the decree also violates property rights which are protected under Article 15 of the Syrian constitution and international law.”
The watchdog group stressed that the Assad regime should provide specific reasons for including people on its list of alleged terrorists or remove them from the list and unfreeze their assets. It should also allow affected people to appeal the listing.
“The government should end collective punishment of families, provide evidence of unlawful activity of the people targeted, and allow them to appeal their listing or unfreeze their assets.”
HRW added: “The government should amend the counterterrorism law, and the laws and decrees subsequent to it, to remove any overbroad definitions of terrorism and incorporate due process and fair trial guarantees, including an open trial with a right to legal counsel and a full right to appeal.” (Source: Syrian Coalition’s Media Department)