Syrian Democratic Forces Have Arrested/ Detained at Least 61 Teachers Over Educational Curricula and for Forced Conscription Since the Beginning of 2021
Persecution of Nearly 550 Teachers Arbitrarily Dismissed from Their Jobs for Refusing Forced Conscription in the Governorates of Raqqa, Deir Ez-Zour and Hasaka
The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) reveals in a report released today that Syrian Democratic Forces have arrested/ detained at least 61 teachers over educational curricula and for forced conscription since the beginning of 2021, in addition to persecuting nearly 550 teachers arbitrarily dismissed from their jobs for refusing forced conscription in the governorates of Raqqa, Deir Ez-Zour and Hasaka.
The 15-page report notes that the policies and decisions Syrian Democratic Forces impose on educational institutions threaten the future of nearly half a million students in the governorates of Raqqa, Hasaka and Deir Ez-Zour, adding that the Self-Management Authority of this region under their leadership has, since its establishment, pursued a gradual policy of changing educational curricula and introducing educational materials that are distorted, incorrect and contrary to the history of Syria and its society. The report adds that the changes in the educational curricula at schools there were introduced without any consultation with local teachers or other academic experts whether from the region or further afield, but were instead imposed as a fait accompli, reflecting the YPG’s politically focused one-party ideological vision that allows only education which glorifies the views and precepts of the ruling authority, similar to the educational curriculum imposed by the Syrian regime that glorifies the Ba’ath Party and the Assad family.
The report describes these incremental policies as disastrous, noting that they have led to an alarming increase in the percentage of children dropping out of school, as well as forcing many children to attend schools in areas under the control of the Syrian regime. This in turn has led to overcrowded classrooms in the regime-controlled schools, constituting a threat in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, with students’ transfers constituting a material and moral burden on their families, and with all the aforementioned factors posing a serious threat to nearly half a million child students in the areas controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces. There is now an urgent need for the US-led coalition forces to pressure their SDF allies to form an inclusive democratic authority involving all the ethnic and religious groups in the region which can provide genuine care for the wellbeing and fate of all residents there.
The report focuses on recent Syrian Democratic Forces violations of the educational system through the group’s launch of arbitrary arrest campaigns which have seen dozens of teachers detained to date since early January 2021 until mid-February. The report notes that the SDF attempt to justify these arrests by claiming they need to conscript the detained teachers into their ranks, or because the teachers have provided special tutoring or additional lessons for children or have taught them according to the educational curriculum of the Syrian regime.
The report relies on the testimonies provided to SNHR by a number of teachers working in schools in the governorates of Deir Ez-Zour, Raqqa and Hasaka, and on the testimonies of eyewitnesses, students and local activists, with the report providing eight of these accounts.
In the report, SNHR expresses its grave concerns over the SDF’s possible forcible disappearance of dozens of teachers, as Syrian Democratic Forces have carried out arrests against teachers without presenting any arrest warrants, directing clear charges, or identifying themselves in terms of their affiliation with any security centers or departments, meaning the arrests are more like kidnappings.
The SNHR’s database indicates that at least 3,784 individuals, including 659 children and 176 women (adult female), are still arbitrarily detained by Syrian Democratic Forces, who have continued to imprison those who were initially taken prisoner by the Democratic Union Party (PYD). At least 2,147 of these detainees, including 113 children and 83 women, have been forcibly disappeared, in the period between the Kurdish Democratic Union Party’s forces first taking control of some areas in Syria in July 2012 up until February 2021. As the report states, SNHR fears that the arrested teachers will be forcibly disappeared in the absence of serious action by the US-led coalition forces, in particular the US Department of Defense (the Pentagon).
Since the beginning of January 2021 up until February 15, 2021, the report records at least 61 arbitrary arrests of teachers, 27 of whom were arrested on charges of teaching the Syrian regime’s educational curriculum, while 34 others were arrested with the aim of forcibly conscripting them into the Syrian Democratic Forces’ ranks.
The report also documents SDF’s deliberate persecution of hundreds of teachers over their refusal to join the ranks of the Syrian Democratic Forces, with this rejection of military conscription already leading to many teachers’ dismissal from their teaching jobs in the schools run by the Self-Management’s Education and Teaching Authority in the governorates of Raqqa, Deir Ez-Zour and Hasaka. The report estimates that nearly 550 teachers have been persecuted and dismissed over their rejection of forced conscription since the beginning of January 2021.
The report concludes that Syrian Democratic Forces/ Self-Management Authority have introduced texts and imposed these as laws despite their lacking any legislative or legal foundation, being based wholly on the reality of the SDF’s military control in these areas, resulting in further punishment and persecution of the local population under the terms of these texts and decrees.
The report adds that this forced conscription within these military forces which are involved, according to UN, international and local reports, in committing several types of violations against the local population, is a violation of the people’s right to personal freedom, human dignity, freedom of movement, and the right of everyone to express conscientious objection to military service as a legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, in particular in the context of armed conflicts, and individuals’ right to reject militarily participation in these. Arbitrary dismissal from work, persecution, arrest, torture and enforced disappearance based on the rejection of forced conscription, are all compounding and adding to the cumulative violations of the most fundamental principles of international human rights law.
The report stresses that the new US administration should promote the human rights situation in northeast Syria, should take steps along the path towards fair and democratic elections that allow full political expression for all members of the local electorate, and should end the current totalitarian military rule, allowing for the establishment of an independent and impartial legislative and judicial authority.
The report calls on the US-led Coalition forces and the states supporting Syrian Democratic Forces to conduct investigations, to hold those responsible accountable for the horrific human rights violations in northeast Syria, to end the current culture of total impunity, and to pressure Syrian Democratic Forces to end their forced conscriptions, and their dismissal and arrests of teachers over their rejection of military conscription.
The report also calls on the US-led Coalition forces and the states supporting Syrian Democratic Forces to work to disclose the fate of all those forcibly disappeared by Syrian Democratic Forces, to secure the release of all those arbitrarily detained, primarily the teachers, and to support the development and establishment of a fair and independent judiciary that prohibits any military entities from carrying out arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances, which holds all those responsible for violations against the local population accountable.
The report emphasizes that Syrian Democratic Forces must stop all forms of arbitrary arrest, reveal the fate of the forcibly disappeared, allow their families to visit and communicate with them, subject them to fair and independent trials, immediately release all teachers who have been arbitrarily arrested, and end the policy of forced conscription.
The report also provides a set of related recommendations to the Human Rights Council, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI), and the High Commissioner for Human Rights.