The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Syria is a State Party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Syria is not a party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which allows individuals to petition the Human Rights Committee if they believe the State has violated their human rights as protected under the Covenant.
At regional level, Syria is a State Party to the 2004 Arab Charter of Human Rights. Under Article 24(6) of the Charter, every citizen has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Article 44 of the 2012 Constitution of Syria governs the right of peaceful assembly:
Citizens shall have the right to assemble, peacefully demonstrate and to strike from work within the framework of the Constitution principles, and the law shall regulate the exercise of these rights.
There is not believed to legislation in force governing the right of peaceful assembly.
The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies
The Use of Force
International Legal Rules
Under international law, the duty on the State and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:
In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and proportionate to that purpose.
On 30 September 2008, the government issued Legislative Decree No. 69, which confers immunity against prosecution to security officials and police officers for crimes committed while on duty. The police and other law enforcement agencies effectively operate without legal constraint.
The Use of Firearms
International Legal Rules
According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life.
There are no constraints on police use of firearms during assemblies.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
Syria has not come before the Human Rights Committee in recent years. In 2019, the Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended that Syria "ensure the full respect for the child’s rights to freedom of expression and to freedom of association and peaceful assembly".
Views of Civil Society
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on Syria:
Freedom of assembly is severely restricted across Syria. Opposition protests in government-held areas are usually met with gunfire, mass arrests, and torture of those detained. Jihadist groups, the PYD, and some rebel factions have also used force to quash civilian dissent and demonstrations.
Accoding to CIVICUS:
In today’s Syria, the right to freedom of peaceful assembly is all but completely denied.When Syrian citizens attempted to exercise their right to peaceful assembly to express their unhappiness with the absence of democratic freedoms in 2011, the government reacted with force, precipitating a spiral of violence which continues today despite the removal of an Emergency Law in April 2011. Protest organisers were some of the first to be rounded up through illegal arrests and enforced disappearances, later to be brought up on spurious charges under the State of Emergency Law that included ‘weakening national sentiment’ and ‘causing sectarian and racial strife’.Today, activists describe conditions of enormous fear, in which any public gatherings, of even two or three people, are not tolerated. Even meetings in private houses carry huge risks for activists or ordinary citizens. The realities of war, and constant bombardment of some urban areas, has made gathering in public extremely dangerous. A shaky ceasefire agreement in early 2016 resulted in a temporary reduction in the number of airstrikes on civilian areas, providing a rare opportunity for Syrians to exercise their freedom to gather in public.