Victory lap in Syria comes with death notices

Assad may believe he has won this conflict, however none of the causes for the war have been addressed.
Tuesday 07/08/2018
Syrian soldiers stand at the Nasib border crossing with Jordan in Deraa, on July 7.
Far from over. Syrian soldiers stand at the Nasib border crossing with Jordan in Deraa, on July 7.

There seems to be a significant turn of events in the Syrian civil war with President Bashar Assad indicating he is the ultimate winner. In recent weeks, the Syrian government has issued hundreds of death notices of deceased political detainees who had been held in government detention facilities.

Observers familiar with this situation in Syria say this may be a sign that Assad feels he can declare himself the victor of the protracted civil war.

Indeed, pro-government Syrian troops, helped by Russian and Iranian forces and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia, have made significant gains recently. This seems to have given Assad a new incentive now that he believes he is nearing the finish line.

The fact that the Syrian government is devoting time and effort to settle bureaucratic matters can be interpreted as an indication that government forces now have the upper hand in the conflict.

The government may be issuing death certificates indicating the day and date of death but one item that is certainly not likely to figure on these certificates is the cause of the detainees’ death.

Reports from human rights groups accuse the Syrian government and its security forces of blatant disrespect for the rights of individuals while detained by government forces. There are reports of detainees being starved to death and tortured in the most horrific manner.

Respect of human rights never figured very high on the Syrian agenda. The Assad government seems to have adopted a new slogan: “Take no prisoners.”  Maybe more in line with its policy would be something along the following: "Take all the prisoners you want but make sure none are ever released."

There are thousands of political prisoners rotting away in scores of prisons, holding cells and detention centres across the Syrian countryside. Many are kept in secret prisons where many detainees have been held for years without trial. Many will never see a lawyer, let alone a judge.

Hundreds have been picked up by the security forces simply for taking part in anti-government protests or for voicing their opinion within earshot of a member of the multitude of security forces deployed by the government. Others could have been denounced by neighbours.

Over the years, the regime has arrested thousands of anti-government people and now they are issuing death certificates.

“Death notices are piling up,” said one expert.

Other countries have fought a civil war and then followed with reconciliation programmes, some with the assistance of international mediators. Don’t expect anything like that in Syria where the government is going after everyone and anyone who stood against it in the past seven years.

Observers who have seen the Syrian death notices said many of them place the death of the prisoners years back, at the start of the conflict.

Perhaps one reason death certificates were not released earlier is the government did not want to trigger resistance from relatives of the detainees; many would, on impulse, join the ranks of the resistance to seek revenge on government forces. Now authorities are confident that a notice of death will not resort in fiercer resistance even if they reveal the multitude of victims while in regime custody.

With most of the fighting over, the government will want to project that life in Syria is returning to normal.

The message is that “the war never happened, the regime is back in charge and everything will be processed through the system,” Faysal Itani, a resident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Centre for the Middle East, told the Washington Post. “I think the word that encapsulates this best is normalisation -- the Syrian version of it, at any rate.”

Human rights groups say more than 104,000 people have disappeared or have been forcibly detained since the conflict began more than seven years ago. Nearly 90% are believed to have been held in government custody.

The regime systematically used torture, starvation and other forms of violence to kill. Most of the death certificates issued by the government list the cause of death as heart attack or stroke. The certificates make no mention of where the deceased was buried.

Assad may believe he has won this conflict, however none of the causes for the war have been addressed.