The situation for human rights defenders (HRDs) in Syria has rapidly deteriorated since the beginning of the government's violent crackdown against nation-wide peaceful protests in 2011. HRDs, who already faced significant difficulties in remaining active under a highly repressive regime, have since been at even higher risk of direct targeting and persecution, including arbitrary arrest and detention, malicious prosecution, death threats, restrictions on their freedom of movement, abduction, defamation, and other forms of harassment and intimidation.
As a result of the crackdown and the violence that ensured, Syria has become one of the most dangerous countries in the region for human rights defenders monitoring and reporting on human rights abuses and advocating on behalf of victims.
The deterioration in the situation of HRDs is as much related to intensified use of violence by the Assad regime as it is to the offensive of the armed militant groups that have proliferated since the beginning of the uprising and which try and control civil society in the areas under their control. Much like the regime itself, these non-state actors increasingly employ tactics of intimidation, death threats, abduction and incommunicado detention against human rights defenders, either because of ideological disagreements or because they are involved in documenting abuses committed by these groups. There are also reports of armed Islamist groups issuing death fatwas against HRDs and condoning their assassinations on grounds of apostasy. A very significant number of HRDs were forced to leave the country or go into hiding for fear of losing their lives.
Enforced disappearances, which puts HRDs at acute risk of torture and ill-treatment, are widespread and committed with impunity by the security forces with the purported aim of obtaining information or coercing confessions. HRDs have been abducted and eventually found to be in detention.