U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Syria
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||30 January 1998|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Syria, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa1c24.html [accessed 17 September 2014]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
SYRIADespite the existence of some institutions of democratic government, the political system places virtually absolute authority in the hands of the President, Hafiz Al-Asad. Key decisions regarding foreign policy, national security, internal politics, and the economy are made by President Asad with counsel from his ministers, high ranking members of the ruling Ba'th Party, and a relatively small circle of security advisers. Although the Parliament is elected every 4 years, the Ba'th Party is ensured a majority. The Parliament does not initiate laws, but only passes judgment on and sometimes modifies those proposed by the executive branch. The judiciary is constitutionally independent, but this is not the case in the exceptional (state of emergency) security courts, which are subject to political influence. The regular courts display independence, although political connections and bribery can influence verdicts. In general, all three branches of government are influenced to varying degrees by leaders of the Ba'th party, whose primacy in state institutions is mandated by the Constitution. The powerful role of the security services in government, which extends beyond strictly security matters, stems in part from the state of emergency that has been in place almost continuously since 1963. The Government justifies martial law because of the state of war with Israel and past threats from terrorist groups. Syrian Military Intelligence and Air Force Intelligence are military agencies, while General Security, State Security, and Political Security come under the purview of the Ministry of Interior. The branches of the security services operate independently of each other and outside the legal system. Their members often ignore the rights of suspects and detainees and commit serious human rights abuses. The economy is based on commerce, agriculture, oil production, and government services. There is a generally inefficient public sector, a private sector, and a mixed public/private sector. A complex bureaucracy, overarching security concerns, endemic corruption, currency restrictions, lack of modern financial services, and a weak legal system hamper economic growth. The Government has sought to promote the private sector through investment incentives, exchange rate consolidation, and deregulation, especially with regard to financial transactions governing imports and exports. Due to a slowdown in agricultural output and reduced revenues from oil exports, real gross domestic product (GDP) growth is about 4.6 percent, down from 6 percent in 1996. The high population growth rate of 3.1 percent means that real per capita growth is only 1.5 percent. Annual per capita GDP is about $1200, with annual inflation hovering between 16 and 18 percent. Wage increases in the public sector have not kept pace with cost of living increases, and the gap between rich and poor continues to widen, with many public sector workers relying on second jobs to make ends meet. The human rights situation remained poor, and the Government continues to restrict or deny fundamental rights. Because the Ba'th party's domination of the political system is provided for by the Constitution, citizens do not have the right to change the Government. The Government uses its vast powers so effectively that there is no organized political opposition and there have been very few antiregime manifestations. Serious abuses include the widespread use of torture in detention; poor prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and prolonged detention without trial; fundamentally unfair trials in the security courts; an inefficient judiciary that suffers from corruption and, at times, political influence; infringement on citizens' privacy rights; denial of freedom of assembly and association; limits on the freedom of movement; and, despite a slight loosening of censorship restrictions, the denial of the freedoms of speech and of the press. Societal discrimination and violence against women are problems. The Government discriminates against the stateless Kurdish minority and suppresses worker rights. There were several credible reports of arrests of political activists, while more than a dozen political prisoners reportedly were released from prison.