A new committee was announced by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) to address the urgent humanitarian crisis involving prisoners and detainees in Syria. This committee had been planned prior to the Coronavirus outbreak, but now takes on a new urgency as the virus threatens populations living in densely-packed prisons under inhumane conditions. Those in Syrian government prisons are subjected to brutal torture, deadly overcrowding, and even summary executions.

“The issue of the detainees is an issue above negotiation, and it should not be used to bargain or blackmail from any party whatsoever,” said Amina Omar, co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Council of the AANES. The detainees should be addressed as a first step to build confidence among different factions of Syrians, Omar stated, not as a deferred issue to be addressed after peace negotiations are complete.

The ultimate goal of the committee is to release political prisoners, detainees who have already served an adequate sentence, detainees who do not need to undergo a trial, and others. Members of the committee will include lawyers, judges, family members of detainees, activists, and members of civil society. They will address detainees in all facilities in Syria, including those run by the Syrian government, the AANES, the Syrian opposition/rebel groups, or any other holding facility.

Many of the detainees in Syrian government prisons have not been charged with a crime and have never undergone a trial. Many of the “trials” are unjust shams without any lawyers or civil society present. An Amnesty International report on the Syrian government’s notorious Saydnaya Prison details conditions in which 50 prisoners could be kept in a 10 foot x 10 foot cell (3 meter x 3 meter cell), torture is frequent, and over 13,000 people have been executed after sham trials. The Syrian government has detained or disappeared hundreds of thousands of people.

Effective immediately, the committee will collect and assess information on each prisoner, including the name of the prisoner, the reasons for their arrest, which government or paramilitary agency arrested the prisoner, and the condition, location, or fate of the prisoner, such as whether the prisoner has died. The committee will also collect contact information for the family members of prisoners, with the goal of providing family members with information on their loved ones.

The committee will be engaging in advocacy, diplomacy, and pressure campaigns, in coordination with other organizations involved in the issue of detainees, to either get the prisoners’ fates revealed through a fair trial, or have them released.

Anyone with information on detainees in Syria, or wishes to contact the committee, may e-mail detaineescommittee@gmail.com.