Bashar al-Assad regime abolished the Military Field Court, which condemned tens of thousands to death
On Sunday, September 3, 2023, the Bashar al-Assad regime abolished the Military Field Court with the issuance of Legislative Decree No. 32 of 2023, which terminates the implementation of Legislative Decree No. 109 of August 17, 1968, and its amendments related to the establishment of Military Field Courts. All cases previously referred to the Military Field Courts were transferred to the military judiciary for prosecution according to the provisions of the Penal Code and the principles of military trials as stipulated in Legislative Decree No. 61 of 1950 and its amendments.
Military Field Courts have been considered the worst exceptional criminal courts established in Syria and the most brutal since their inception over half a century ago. Tens of thousands of Syrians have fallen victim to these courts since their establishment in 1968.
These courts were exempt from adhering to the rules and procedures outlined in the applicable legislation, such as the right to defense, legal representation by lawyers, public trials, and appeals. Their judgments could only be enforced after approval by the Minister of Defense, except for death sentences, which required the approval of the head of state.
Military Field Courts were established in 1968 by Legislative Decree No. 109 and were initially tasked with handling crimes falling under the jurisdiction of military courts committed during times of war and military operations. They underwent three amendments: the first in 1969 by Legislative Decree No. 12, which explicitly granted the military prosecution the same powers as the military investigating judge and allowed them to bypass the established legal procedures. The second amendment came in 1970 with Legislative Decree No. 61, which expanded their jurisdiction to include crimes committed against the enemy and referred to them by the Minister of Defense, in addition to their original jurisdiction over war crimes or crimes during military operations. The third amendment, under Legislative Decree No. 32 of July 1, 1980, expanded their jurisdiction to include crimes committed during internal disturbances.
The Syrian Human Rights Committee reminds of Judge Suleiman al-Khatib, who presided over the Military Field Court and sentenced thousands of innocent detainees at the Tadmor Prison in the 1980s and 1990s. The committee also recalls General Mustafa Tlass, the Defense Minister in Hafez al-Assad’s regime, who proudly approved death sentences for 100-150 innocent detainees issued by the aforementioned court on a weekly basis.
The Syrian Human Rights Committee (SHRC) considers the abolition of this court, which took the lives of tens of thousands of Syrians, as another manouvering step by the Bashar al-Assad regime, similar to its actions in 2012 when it established the Terrorism Cases Court, which continues to violate fair and impartial trials. Additionally, Legislative Decree No. 32 of 2023 granted military courts the authority to try civilians, in violation of the most basic legal principles and their right to be tried before civilian courts as guaranteed by the constitution. The decree also does not address the fate of thousands of Syrians sentenced through arbitrary trials conducted by the Military Field Court, which deprived them of the right to a public trial, legal representation, or the right to appeal judgments. SHRC emphasizes the need to integrate the Terrorism Cases Court into the Military Field Court and abolish all, release all detainees and forcibly disappeared individuals, and hold accountable all those involved in the dissolved Military Field Court, starting with the head of the regime, the Defense Minister, all its judges, and everyone who contributed to depriving the accused of a fair and impartial trial, which constitutes a war crime under Article 8, paragraph 4, of the Rome Statute.