Legal Developments in the Year 2003
The State of Emergency declared in Syria in 1963 remains in force, despite the fact that a number of officials have denounced it as inefficient and questioned its appropriateness and relevance to the contemporary social and political climate. The continuing application of Emergency Law in Syria provides occasion for security agencies to wield far reaching powers, allowing them to arrest and detain any individual on whatever pretext, usually because of the person’s real or supposed opposition to the regime. Emergency Law also gave the courts exceptional powers which have significantly impinged on the independence of the judiciary and have negatively impacted the defendant's right to a fair trial.
One such exceptional court, the Supreme State Security Court, was mandated by Decree no. 47 on 28th March 1968. The Supreme State Security Court falls far short of applying international legal standards for fair trail, is not an independent or impartial court and verdicts are not subject to appeal before a higher tribunal. The Military Courts have also been granted exceptional powers under Emergency Law including the capacity to hear civil cases under Decree no. 46 (1966). Trials at the Military Courts remain secret, defendants have no access to legal representation and cannot appeal verdicts.
The year 2003 saw the creation of over fifty new laws in Syria, of which dismally few have actually enhanced or had a positive effect on the human rights of Syrian citizens. Among the cases pardoned under Decree no. 22 (which granted a general pardon to a number of prisoners convicted before January 2003) only a few related to those imprisoned as a result of the denial of human rights and fundamental freedoms. For example, a pardon was granted to HRAS director Mr. Haithem Al-Maleh as well as Mr. Farooq Al-Homsi, Mohammed Kheirbeck and Rasoob Al-Mala, all of whom stood trial before the Military Court charged with circulating publications without the required permission, belonging to a secret association and disseminating false news. In effect, the vast majority of people pardoned under Decree no. 22 were ordinary criminals and not victims of human rights violations.
Law no. 80 (2003) positively amended the legislation concerning guardianship of children after divorce, although many women's rights activists believe the changes are not extensive enough. According to this law, a mother has the right to guardianship of her child until the age of 15 years for daughters and 13 years for sons (previously the ages were lower). In addition, Family Law no. 42 (2003) initiated the creation of a Syrian Committee for Family Affairs which aims to improve the situation of the nuclear family in Syria, as the natural and fundamental group unit in society, and to foster active participation in the community and in the development of society. Whole text in HRAS Annual Report 2004.