Association in Syria
On paper, it is possible to establish a CSO in Syria. However, the government has full authority to decide if an association can be registered or not. In practice, Syrian citizens are completely denied the right to freedom of association. Most CSOs which provide critical services in the midst of the conflict are forced to operate clandestinely and with the threat of sanction, rather than the support of the state behind them. Those operating in areas of the country controlled by government forces have virtually no freedom in which to operate, while those in opposition-controlled areas (excluding areas controlled by extremist Islamist groups) are largely limited in scope to mitigating the effects of the conflict.Air and ground strikes have targeted CSOs, foreign and domestic alike. Recent examples of such attacks include the bombing in November 2015 of a bakery run by a Turkish non-governmental organisation in Idlib.Many civil society activists and organisations, who were at the centre of peaceful efforts to denounce Syria’s brutal dictatorship in 2011, have either disappeared, been killed or forced into exile since the start of the armed conflict. As of June 2016, many prominent human rights defenders including Khalil Ma’touq, Bassel Khartabil, Mohamed Zaza, Hussein ‘Essou, Yahia Al Sharbaji, Samar Kokash, Zaki Kordillo and his son Mehyar and Ibrahim Hajji Al Halabi remained unlawfully detained or disappeared – their whereabouts unknown to even their own families. Torture in detention is systematic and methods include ‘suspending detainees by their wrists for hours or days; beating detainees on their heads or chests with PVC pipes, whipping with steel cables, electrocution, and burning.’ Rape, threats of rape and sexual harassment are also used as forms of torture, especially against women in detention. Incredibly, some CSOs, including those advancing the causes of women in Syria, have continued to campaign and organise in increasingly desperate circumstances throughout the conflict. On 9 December 2013, woman human rights defender and head of the Violations Documentation Centre in Syria, Razan Zaitouneh, was abducted with her two colleagues and husband during a raid on their offices by a group of armed men and remain in captivity until today.