Highlights of the 2014 State Dept. Human Rights Report on Syria

The State Department released its 2014 Human Rights Report for Syria, which noted that the majority of the country’s  human rights violations were committed by President Bashar al-Assad in response to “major political conflict” within the country. The Assad regime used “deadly military force” against civilians throughout the country to end peaceful protests calling for political reform and democracy. Air and ground-based military assaults ordered by Assad targeted  cities, residential areas, and civilian infrastructure. The most common attacks were on schools, hospitals, houses, and places of worship. Opposition groups have gained control over different parts of the country, with the most notable terrorist organization in power being the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). More than 200,000 people have died and 3.2 million Syrians have registered as refugees as a result of the current civil war.

Use of excessive force by opposition groups increased significantly. Use of lethal tactics and killings by the Assad regime also increased throughout the year. 32,507 people, including 3,629 children and 131 medical professionals were killed as a result of the government’s increasing attacks on opposition-ruled areas of the country. Despite the UN Security Council calling on the Assad regime to end the use of barrel bombs, the regime used barrel bombs 650 times, which killed 1,655 civilians during a six month period. A total of 3,557 people have been killed by ISIS  during 2014. Rape was also used as  a war tactic. Child soldiers were also used in combat as pro-government militias enlisted children from the age of 13. The Assad regime also paid children between the ages of six and 13 to be informants. Opposition groups have reportedly used child soldiers in combat as well.

ISIL systematically targeted journalists by decapitating foreign journalists and humanitarian aid workers, then releasing videos of the beheadings on social media sites. ISIL fighters also raided media organization offices where they arrested journalists and confiscated their equipment. The Iraqi government also terrorized, abused, and killed individuals who exercised their freedom of press and speech. Political meetings were monitored for criticism of the government, reporters faced punishment if they did not reveal their government sources, and the Ministry of Information monitored all radio and television news programs to “ensure adherence to government policies.” Intimidation, banning individuals from the country, and dismissing journalists from their positions were common punishments for journalists and writers who criticized the government. Journalists were also arrested for writing in favor of opposition groups. 211 media activists, seven whom died under torture, were killed by government forces during 2014.

Despite the constitutional right for citizens to change their government peacefully through  elections, elections were neither free nor fair. During the most recent elections, a majority of the citizens were not able to vote due to restricted access to polling sites as a result of increasing violence and displacement. State employees were “forcibly transported” by the Assad regime to polling sites and voters “faced intimidation by security elements.” Additional political parties outside of the ruling Baath Party may be established legally, however, the regime showed “little tolerance for other political parties.” Members of other political parties were harassed and arrested.