The latest report of the UN Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic stated on Sept. 14 that Syria is "not fit for safe and dignified returns of refugees." The report found that between July 2020 and June 2021, armed conflict increased in the country. The report documented 243 civilian deaths, but estimated that the total number of fatalities is actually far greater. The report also stressed the humanitarian crisis and ongoing human rights abuses in the country. Conditions were also found to be precarious for the 6.7 million displaced persons within the country.
The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the US Treasury Department on July 28 imposed sanctions on eight prisons run by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's intelligence unit, for human rights abuses against political prisoners and other detainees. Additionally, OFAC added five senior security officials of al-Assad's regime who control the detention facilities to the Treasury’s Specially Designated Nationals & Blocked Persons List. According to OFAC, the regime has imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Syrians during the war, of whom at least 14,000 have been tortured to death, with a further 130,000 missing and believed to be under arbitrary detention. OFAC also placed sanctions on Syrian armed rebel group Ahrar al-Sharqiya and two of its leaders for abuses against civilians.
Advocacy groups for migrants on the US southern border are protesting conditions at Texas' Fort Bliss, an Army base that the Biden administration has opened as an emergency holding facility. Nearly 5,000 minors who crossed the border without a parent or guardian are currently being held in large tents at the base. This is about a quarter of the total number of minors in the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a body of the US Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). As of late May, nearly 600 of these had spent 40 days or longer at the "megasite." Nearly 1,700 minors had been there for at least a month, according to government data. Unlike traditional HHS shelters for migrant children, Fort Bliss and other emergency "influx" sites are not licensed by state authorities to care for minors, and have lower standards of care.
Guantánamo Bay detainee Abu Zubaydah, who has been held for 19 years without charges or a trial, filed a complaint on April 30 with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions (UNWGAD) requesting intervention in his case. Zubaydah was captured in Pakistan after the September 11 attacks and was held and tortured by the CIA in various top-secret "black sites." The CIA originally believed that Zubaydah was a close associate of al-Qaeda, but after four years of interrogation, they concluded that he was not linked to the group. He was then moved to Guantánamo in 2006. The US government has justified Zubaydah's continued detention by asserting its broad authority under the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). Under the AUMF, passed after 9-11, detainees can be held until the "cessation of hostile activities." But Zubaydah asserts in his complaint that this "law of war" rationale is in conflict with international human rights laws.
International pressure on parties to the conflict in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region is building, but abuses of civilians and aid blockages and looting continue. The United States and the EU have continued to pause some non-emergency aid to Ethiopia. The UK government should consider pursuing UN sanctions against individuals "found to be obstructing the delivery of essential humanitarian supplies and using starvation as a weapon of war," according to a parliamentary committee. The Eritrean military remains in Tigray, and is accused of looting and abuses despite a pledge by Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed a month ago that its forces would pull back. The AFP news agency obtained documents from Tigray's Abiy-appointed interim government describing harassment of aid workers and looting of supplies by Eritrean troops. Meanwhile, AP reported the rounding up and detention of thousands of Tigrayans, amounting to a purge of the military and civil service on grounds of ethnicity. The UN says 90% of displaced people have still not received help with shelter, and a major road into the region was blocked by hostilities for 12 days.
The first-ever extensive report on the Syria war by Russian human rights groups was released on April 2, highlighting the role of Moscow's military intervention in the conflict and its impact on civilians. The report, "A Devastating Decade: Violations of Human Rights & Humanitarian Law in the Syrian War," is the result of two years of research by Russian rights groups, including Memorial Human Rights Center, the Civic Assistance Committee, Soldiers' Mothers of Saint Petersburg, and the Youth Human Rights Movement. The 198-page report provides chilling first-hand testimonials of life inside besieged areas, aerial bombardment, chemical weapons attacks, as well as the widespread use of torture and deprivation in regime prisons. The report is critical of all parties in the conflict—including the US-led coalition—but especially focuses on the impacts of the Russian intervention.
The Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany, on Feb. 24 convicted a former officer of Syria's General Intelligence Directorate, Eyad A., on charges of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity—specifically, torture and deprivation of liberty committed against 30 persons. Eyad received a sentence of four years and six months in prison for his role in arresting people who were later tortured. The 30 persons, who were all civilians, had been participating in anti-government protests in Douma in 2011 when they were rounded up and sent by bus to Branch 251, or the al-Khatib detention center in Damascus. At Branch 251, they suffered grave physical, emotional and psychological abuse, in addition to being subjected to inhumane and degrading conditions. The court stated that "Eyad A. had already known about the regular and systematic torture in the prison of department 251 when the demonstrators were arrested... He also expected that the torture was part of a planned, organized action by the government to suppress opposition forces."
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a memo Feb. 18 with "temporary guidelines for...enforcement and removal operations" by Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), giving ICE agents discretion on enforcement actions and essentially overturning the "100-day pause on certain removals" instated by President Biden's executive order of Jan. 20, his first day on office. Naureen Shah, senior policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), responded to the move in a statement: "The memo is a disappointing step backward from the Biden administration's earlier commitments to fully break from the harmful deportation policies of both the Trump and Obama presidencies. While the Biden administration rightly acknowledges that immigrants are our family members, our coworkers, and our neighbors, for now it has chosen to continue giving ICE officers significant discretion to conduct operations that harm our communities and tear families apart."