Access Now and UIC Law’s International Human Rights Clinic Seek Accountability in Syria

The International Human Rights Clinic at UIC John Marshall Law School published a report in conjunction with Access Now on the mass electronic and digital surveillance campaign of the Assad Regime in Syria.

The report, “Digital Dominion: The Syrian Regime’s Use of Pervasive Digital Monitoring to Control Its People in Violation of Human Rights,” was released March 18 to help raise awareness and call upon the international community to seek accountability in Syria.

The Clinic’s report exposes the surveillance carried out by the Syrian government by detailing how the Syrian Regime, together with third-party hackers such as the Syrian Electronic Army, proactively monitors dissenters. It highlights that this monitoring not only violates the human rights to privacy and expression of the Syrian people, but also forms a crucial part of an apparatus of systemic and widespread violence. Further, the report details how digital monitoring is used both to control access to information and to physically track activists resulting in the arrests, torture, forced disappearances and death of Syrian people.

This report sheds light on the legal, political and technological contexts in which surveillance is used to violate human rights. In doing so, advocates and the global community must push forward reforms to limit the use of surveillance to monitor and punish human rights activists. The analysis in this report provides a framework that journalists and others documenting the violence and human rights crisis in Syria may use to continue reporting on the Regime’s use of surveillance of the Syrian people. Finally, by documenting the current situation in Syria, this report hopes to inform broader conversations on state-sponsored surveillance and how it endangers activists and others who speak up against governments and powerful actors.

The International Human Rights Clinic hopes that exposing these practices will contribute to gaining accountability for human rights violations of Syrian citizens, activists and human rights defenders. This report is only the beginning of this broader conversation about the need to press for limitations in the use of surveillance and to hold the Syrian State accountable for the countless abuses that the Syrian people have endured.

“This report is the result of a multi-year investigative project that arose out of representing Syrians who were afraid they were being surveilled by the Syrian Regime,” said Professor Sarah Dávila-Ruhaak, Director of the International Human Rights Clinic. “We have seen first-hand that the surveillance of activists results in their persecution and silencing. It is imperative for the international community to demand accountability for the suffering of so many during the last decade.”

The report is part of a broader Clinic initiative, The Privacy and Human Rights Project, which seeks to investigate, document and report on breaches of the right to privacy and violations of human rights in the context of surveillance. This project is more important than ever with an ever-growing use of digital technology.

In the upcoming online event, “Privacy and Human Rights in Syria,” speakers will discuss the use of digital technology to surveil activists and persecute human rights defenders. This online event will take place on April 16 at 12:00 p.m. CT and is free to the public. To register visit: https://bit.ly/38UhoAs

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