Q&A on the general amnesty for Syrian army deserters and draft evaders

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23.02.2016

1.When was the latest general amnesty issued?

On Wednesday 17 February 2016, the Syrian President issued legislative decree no. 8 granting a general amnesty for (a) military deserters inside and outside Syria and (b) draft evaders and reserves. Previous amnesties were issued on 25 July 2015, 18 November 2013 and 2 May 2012.

2.Who can benefit from this amnesty?

The decree grants amnesty on the full penalty for the following acts committed before 17 February 2016:

  • Military deserters, who remained inside Syria, must turn themselves in within 30 days in order to benefit from the amnesty.
  • Military deserters, who fled Syria to another country, must turn themselves in within 60 days in order to benefit from the amnesty.
  • Draft evaders or those who did not serve as reserve, when called, will not however be exempted from the fines.

3.How much time is given to benefit from this amnesty?

If a person deserted the army and remained inside Syria, the person has 30 days starting from 17 February 2016 to present himself/herself and benefit from the amnesty.

If the person deserted the army and fled Syria to another country, the person has 60 days starting from 17 February 2016 to present himself/herself and benefit from the amnesty.

If a person did not fulfill the compulsory military service (draft evader) or did not serve as reserve, the amnesty decree does not specify any deadline for that person to present himself/herself and benefit from the amnesty.

4.Are persons granted full amnesty?

According to the decree, if a person deserted the Syrian army before 17 February 2016 and presented himself within the deadline mentioned under question 3, the person will be granted full amnesty – this means no jail and no fine.

If the person is a draft evader or is a reserve and refused to join the army when called upon, the person will be granted amnesty from jail time but will not be exempted from fines.

So far, UNHCR cannot confirm how this decree will be implemented in practice – see question 6 regarding having to enroll in the army (forced conscription).

5.Where should the person present himself/herself?

The person has to present himself/herself to any police station/military unit in Syria. He/she will be transferred from that police station/military unit to the military court for investigation.

6.Will the amnestied persons be requested to join the army?

Yes, the amnesty does not exempt from military service but only waives the penalties. If the amnesty is granted, the person is provided with a waiver and requested to report to his/her military unit within a defined period of time.

7.Will persons who deserted the Syrian army and joined the armed opposition groups, benefit from the amnesty?

No, the decree does not include deserters who joined armed opposition groups.

8.Will a military deserter/or draft evader who also committed another offence in Syria, benefit from a full amnesty?

No, other crimes are not covered by this decree.

9.If refugees go to Syria to benefit from the amnesty, will they be able to return to Lebanon?

As of 5 January 2015, Syrian nationals can only enter Lebanon under certain specific entry visas that do not include humanitarian reasons. There will be no automatic re-entry for those who are registered with UNHCR in Lebanon and who returned to benefit from this amnesty.

10.What is UNHCR’s position in relation to return to Syria?

UNHCR believes that the situation in Syria is not conducive to safe return at the moment.