The Supreme State Security Court (SSSC) represented one of the main pillars of the repressive regime established by the Ba’ath party upon their seizing of power via military coup in 1963. The SSSC was an expression of the regime’s disdain for law since its creation in 1963 and until its dissolution in 2011, five years ago. The court has prosecuted thousands of people outside the minimal standards of fair trials.
The SSSC was created by the legislative decree 47 dated 28/3/1968, which abolished all extraordinary military courts introduced by legislative decree 6 in 1965, and remained extant until the legislative decree 53 was issued on 21/4/2011 as part of a package of decrees issued on the date, in an attempt to absorb the demands for reform inspired by the civilian protests which began in March 2011.
The court prosecuted the first wave of the Muslim Brotherhood Movement who were arrested in 1979, condemning all of them to death, as well as another group of the movement’s detainees during the mid nineties (most of whom had returned from exile). The court also prosecuted detainees from the Communist Arab Organisation and the Syrian Communist Party- the Political Bureau, as well as detainees belonging to the Communist Labour party, Kurdish activists, civil movement activists, Palestinian organisations, Islamic Organisations such as Salafis, Hizb al-Tahreer members and others.
It is worthy to note that the remainder of the Muslim Brotherhood detainees from 1980 onwards received summary prosecution at field courts inside prisons.
Between 1980 and 1992, the SSSC was not active for inexplicable reasons .Upon its resumption, the SSSC’s first case was that of the Committees for the Defence of Democratic Freedoms and Human Rights in Syria. In March 1992, the court sentenced scores of the committees’ members 5 to10 year terms in prison, charging them with membership to illegal organisations and the distribution of publications without permission.
Between 2006 & 2008, the SSSC was very active on the cases of those who “Returned from Iraq”, amongst whom hundreds were sentenced and sent to Sednaya Prison, where scores were killed afterwards in a massacre which began on 5/7/2008.
It is not possible at present to obtain a list of all cases the SSSC worked on since its creation, as its work prior to 2002 was secret and no foreign figures were allowed to attend the trials. As a result, information on this period counted on the testimonials of prisoners who were later released, or the testimonials of prisoners whose co-prisoners were presented in front of the SSSC and had shared their experiences with them. Post 2002, most trials of the SSSC became public and lawyers were allowed to debate, though their debate was simply a show. As a result, Syrian and international human rights groups were able to document the names of the defendants, their trials, and the sentences issued against them.
SHRC documented the names of the victims and their trials which took place during that period, and the abuses which were perpetrated against them.
However, even when trials went public post 2002, this did not encompass the sittings themselves but rather an overview of the trial in most cases. Most cases were considered in the president’s courtroom and not in the actual court room, and attorneys at law were unable to represent their clients.
In an exception move, diplomats from the European Union were given permission to attend some hearings post 2004.
A western diplomat who attended some of the sessions commented that: “It is impossible to improve this court- which opposes human rights norms- The only solution is to annul it completely.
The Function of the Court
The court dealt with detainees held at various security branches, who were referred to the court according to military command, endorsed by the minister of the Interior.
The SSSC neither offers varying degrees of judgements nor were its laws subject to appeal. Its sentences are considered final and valid once ratified by the President, as affirmed by article 7 of section B of the legislative decree 1968, which stated that “when investigating, the public prosecution will have full delegated power, as well as the judges of interrogation and referral according to the extant laws. These decisions are final and will not accept any recourse, challenge or appeal.” This means that the martial prosecution is both a litigant and a judge at the same time, because it initiates the prosecution, and it issues the accusation charge while it enjoys the power of the referral judge.
According to a report published by Human Rights Watch (2007) on the SSSC, and which included the testimonies of foreign diplomats who attended the court sessions, the court did not even look like a real court. It consisted of a room in an apartment on “May 29th Road” in Damascus, in which the judge would present the case briefly, ask the defendant some questions, and then close the session. The lawyers do not speak, no material evidence is presented, and the session in its entirety is no longer than 30 minutes for each defendant. Many times, the president of the court, Fayez al-Nouri, would hold hearings in his office on the third floor of the building, instead of holding them inside the court room!
In a testimonial provided by a lawyer who attended the court’s hearings consistently, he said that “it was rare for the court to call upon witnesses, and when it did the witness was either a security official or an informant. It was even rarer for the court to accept the testimony of defence witnesses, and when they were present it was rare for them to add more information. In cases in which witnesses were called to support the defendant’s testimony, the court completely ignored them.”
Despite the fact that the permanent constitution sanctioned in 1973 abolished all previous extraordinary measures, article 153 legislated that the SSSC remain, and that “the legislation in force and which has been issued prior to the enforcement of this constitution will remain active until they are amended to fit its provisions.”
The Court Presidency
Article (2) of decree 47 of 1968, states that the court would be formed by a decree from the President of the Republic, from a president and members, whose number, civilian or military identity will be defined by the decree of formation.
Fayez al-Nouri kept the position of President of the court since the late 1970s. He is a primary school teacher from the city of Deir Ezzour in north-east Syria. He studied law at a later stage in his life, as an associate, and did not work as a lawyer or in the area of law before he was assigned to the position.
Despite his referral to retirement on 13/8/2000, al-Nouri kept presiding sessions of the court until it was dissolved on 21/4/2011.
Al-Nouri’s name was linked to a huge number of violations, particularly those which took place in the late 1970s when the court issued sentences on hundreds of citizens charged of affiliation to the Muslim brotherhood, the majority of whom were sentenced to death in trials which lasted for no longer than few minutes.
Terrorism Court Succeeds the SSSC
The SSSC was dissolved in early 2011 as part of a package of measurements by the Syrian regime to improve the file of human rights violations it was committing. The court was therefore abolished, and on the same day the state of emergency was lifted. Prior to this, the situation of those affected by the census in al-Hasaka in 1962 was regularised, and the constitution was to be amended later.
However, the formation of the Terrorism Court by legislative decree 22 of 2012 confirmed that the annulment of the SSSC was no more than a show, with the Terrorism court being worse than its predecessor, as it does not allow lawyers to even access case files or obtain a copy of them, in the same way that it doesn’t allow lawyers to meet their clients. In addition, its delegated powers have exceeded that which was given to the SSSC, relying on a broad definition of terrorism which incorporates- in the court view- any act which opposes the regime.