The attack by the Turkish-backed ‘Syrian National Army’ (SNA) on areas east of the Euphrates held by the ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF) has understandably provoked a large amount of international media and social media attention. Unsurprisingly, much of this attention focuses on whether SNA elements are committing abuses and human rights violations.
Of course, the SNA is well aware of this problem, and accordingly its Guidance Directorate recently issued a ‘code of conduct’ document for the SNA and the internal security forces. I have translated this ‘code of conduct’ in full.
What to make of this document? In my view, the most important point about the ‘code of conduct’ is that despite the occasional references to Islamic law (Shari’a) and sops to religion, the framing of the document is essentially secular with far more references to international laws, treaties and accords. For instance, when it comes to details on how to treat prisoners of war, the document invokes articles of the Third Geneva Convention of 1949 CE, not the pronouncements of Islamic jurisprudence. On the issue of preservation of heritage sites, the document cites The Hague Convention of 1954 CE. These points alone should demonstrate the absurdity of trying to frame the SNA as some kind of ‘jihadist’ project, considering that jihadists reject the idea of applying international and national ‘man-made’ laws and believe Islamic law to be the sole reference and authority.
One might note that as nice as the many principles outlined in this document sound, there is a difference between theory and practice. On this point, I agree: the conduct of many SNA members has fallen well short of the standards outlined in this ‘code of conduct’, and it is questionable how much internal accountability is really being applied.
There is much myopia in the debate on the conduct of the SNA. I find the attempt to disassociate the conduct of SNA members from the conduct of the rebels of the past to be particularly absurd. That is, the notion that the reason abuses are occurring is because the SNA is different in nature from the rebel formations of the past is wrong. On the contrary, the difference now is that there is simply more media attention on the matter considering the SNA’s fight against the SDF. In fact, as Aron Lund suggests, the SNA today is likely more disciplined than the rebel formations of the past, since there is at least more sense of command and control now. The truth is that problems of looting, vandalism, unlawful executions and abuses against prisoners have been pervasive features of the Syrian insurgency from the outset: they just did not make the headlines in the same way in the past. Take for example Jaysh al-Islam (a component of the SNA’s ‘Second Legion’ and currently participating in the ‘Peace Spring’ operations east of the Euphrates): was the group somehow a bunch of ‘good guys’ when it was in East Ghouta and then turned ‘baddie’ once it joined the SNA and fought the SDF in Afrin?
Likewise there is much myopia on the issue of SNA-SDF hostilities. It is not as though the SNA dislikes the SDF simply because Turkey is against the SDF. After all, clashes between the predecessors of the SNA and SDF- in the form of various rebel groups and the YPG respectively- were occurring back in 2012-2013 CE. The animosities are long-standing and each side has its own grievances, with a long-standing consensus among the rebels being that the SDF and its predecessors represent a ‘separatist’ project opposed to the values of the ‘revolution’.
Below is the ‘code of conduct’ translated in full.
Code of Conduct
‘The Syrian National Army and the Armed Forces and the Security Forces’
(Fighter, Not Killer)
Prepared by the Guidance Directorate
1441 AH- 2019 CE
Sunday 3 November 2019 CE
Introduction: About the Importance of the Code
In the name of God and praise be to God and prayers and peace be upon the Messenger of God who said: ‘Those who have mercy: the Merciful will have mercy on them. Have mercy for those who are on earth, the One in Heaven will have mercy on you.’
To our sons in the National Army and the Armed Forces and the Security Forces, we send you regards and peace, and we place before you this code that is intended to help you follow the magnanimous values in dealing with the citizens. If we comply with them, we give the bright picture of the army of the homeland that protects the sons of the homeland and its borders and security and values, and does not turn into a ruling army or a tyrannical army or sect, as the criminal Assad regime did to the Syrian army over the course of 50 years, through political and sectarian appointment and drowning in corruption, oppression and frivolity.
Indeed the force of our National Army will be in accordance with discipline and compliance with the principles of military professionalism, and respecting the hierarchy in addition to complete representation of the values of the Syrian revolution, which arose against the regime of oppression, corruption and sectarian. The most important principles of which have been embodied in freedom, dignity, justice and peaceful change in authority, and just distribution of national resources and income, and building the military and security foundation on professional national bases far removed from the sectarian allotments or political competitions, that it may be an army of the people, and the security of the people, from the people and for it. And we cite the words of the poet:
And indeed the nations are embodied in the ethics as long as they have remained,
But if their ethics disappear, they disappear.
And by God we ask for soundness and preservation of our revolution and homeland, and for the completion of the course of your struggle in realizing victory against the Assadist regime, its operators, supporters and its followers from the different regimes and organizations hostile to humanitarianism.
Guidance Directorate in the National Army.
Section One: Aims of the Code and the Vision of the National Army and Its Values
First: Aims of the Code
1. To define the foundations of conduct for the National Army and the Security Forces during their undertaking of their national obligation in liberating the occupied areas, and preserving security, and realizing stability in the liberated areas.
2. Ensuring lack of discrimination during the undertaking of the assignment of preserving security, in the path of realizing and ensuring human rights and foundational values for the state of law.
3. Affirming that the assignments of the National Army reflect an understanding of the rule and sovereignty of law, which protects and reinforces human rights in accordance with its values and principles and in accordance with the heavenly laws and international treaties.
4. Affirming that respect for human rights is among the foundations of security and public order.
5. The code of conduct is to be considered an important means to affirm the legitimacy of the National Army’s relationship with its popular support base.
6. Sincere compliance with the foundations that this code has framed will give great support to our just cause, whether from our free people or allied states or the international community.
Second: Our Vision
1. Liberating all the Syrian lands from the oppressive and sectarian systems, and the takfiri and separatist organizations, and terrorism in all its forms.
2. Protecting our people and preserving their security and safety, without any discrimination among their components.
3. Respecting and reinforcing human rights and freedom, and defending them in the face of any violation.
4. Impartiality, transparency and neutrality and no discrimination.
5. The good example in discipline, and reinforcing means of oversight and holding to account.
Third: Our Values
Section Two: The Governing Foundations for the Conduct and Work of the National Army
These clauses regulate the ethical, humanitarian and legal compliances that govern the work of members of the National Army when they undertake their obligations, and they strive to respect the human rights, and protect general freedoms when the National Army undertakes its assignments.
First: On Professional Conduct and Obligation for Members of the National Army
Members of the National Army are obliged to do the following:
1. Working to provide security and general security for all with haste and active effort and without discrimination, and to provide the necessary aid for the persons exposed to danger in all circumstances whenever the matter requires that.
2. Acting with respect and earnestness and without haughtiness when undertaking the job.
3. Complying with the highest levels of conduct, professional, job, social and ethical discipline, in what enables the implementation of the assignments and obligations placed on their shoulder with competency and professionalism in a framework that respects and protects human rights.
4. Compliance in the framework of military professionalism, with the best relations with the civilians and foundations of the civil society, to reinforce the trust and cooperation with them with the objective of fulfilling the required obligations at the highest level of active effort.
5. Refraining from undertaking any work of torture or harsh treatment or inhumane or degrading treatment or the like, or encouraging it, or indifference to it.
6. Refraining from exceeding the limit of authority that has been given to them, in accordance with the national laws that are enforceable and relevant.
7. Refraining from accepting any bribe or gift, or committing any deed of corruption, or concealing it during their undertaking of their obligation.
8. Not exploiting their positions or role for the purpose of any influence or personal gains, but rather being subject to the observed laws in an equal form with all the citizens.
9. No taking photos and videos during the military assignments except by the authorized parties on account of what that entails from violating the foundations of secrecy and soundness of military work.
10. Informing the leaders of any deed that contravenes the law on the basis of their legal and job compliance.
11. Leaders are prohibited from giving illegitimate orders or orders that contravene the law, and these orders are not to be considered an impediment to responsibility.
12. The leaders are to embody an example for those led.
Second: The Foundational Principles to Use Force and Firearms
Before the complicated reality that Syria is going through, the National Army has been compelled to use arms in its war on oppression and terrorism, but that does not mean carelessness in using force, but rather following the following principles:
1. Necessity: force and fire arms are to be used in accordance with the international laws, and for purposes of implementing the law in cases in which all other means become ineffective and the desired results will not be realized, and only in the necessary boundaries, and use of firearms is to be considered a last resort as every effort must be made to avoid using force and firearms.
2. Proportionality: the use of force and firearms must be proportionate with the legitimate desired aim to be fulfilled and with caution.
3. Legitimacy: the use of force and firearms must be in accordance with the national laws and relevant international laws.
4. Non-discrimination: assignments must be carried out without any discrimination in an illegitimate sense on the basis of ethnicity, sex, religion, language, colour, political opinion and national origins, or any other type of discrimination.
5. Precautions: undertaking all the necessary arrangements for progression in the use of force, with the aim of minimizing the damage resulting from its use and not causing harm to those not targeted.
Third: The Foundational Principles in Dealing With Prisoners of War
The leadership and members of the National Army are obliged to deal with prisoners of war according to the principles of the magnanimous Islamic Shari’a, and according to the principles of international law, and the relevant accords, at the head of which is the Third Geneva Convention of 1949 CE, and thus the National Army is obliged as follows:
1. It is forbidden for members of the National Army to use violence towards the detained who do not show any resistance.
2. There must be no discrimination between prisoners especially on account of their origins, nationality, religion, thoughts and political or ideological orientations, or for any other considerations.
3. Principles of proportionality are to be observed especially when the matter concerns the use of force, and it is forbidden to resort to harsh methods in striving to obtain more cooperation during the initial interrogation, and in all cases there must not be use of force except in the limits and within cases that require resorting to that
4. Dealing with prisoners of war humanely at all times, and it is forbidden to commit any deed or illegitimate neglect that results in the death of a prisoner in one’s custody, and it is to be considered a grave violation (Third Geneva Convention: Article 13).
5. Prisoners of war have a right for their persons and dignity to be respected in all circumstances, and the female prisoners must be treated with all necessary consideration for their sex, and in any case they must receive treatment that is no less dignified than the treat that men receive (Third Geneva Convention: Article 14).
6. Responsibility must be assumed for keeping the prisoners alive and offering the medical care that their health condition requires for free (Third Geneva Convention: Article 15).
7. It is not allowed to engage in any physical or psychological torture, or any compulsion upon prisoners of war to obtain information from them of any type.
And it is not allowed to threaten the prisoners of war who reject responding, or to abuse them or subject them to any type of irritation or injustice (Third Geneva Convention Article 17).8. Prisoners of war are to be transferred as soon as possible after their imprisonment to camps located outside the areas of combat, and they must be evacuated in a humane manner (Third Geneva Convention Articles 19 and 20).
9. The basic daily apportionments of food must be sufficient in quantity, type and differentiation, to preserve health of the prisoners of war, and prevention of loss of weight, or affliction in cases of deficiency of feeding (Third Geneva Convention Article 26).
10. Prisoners of war are to enjoy complete freedom in practicing their religious rituals, and engage in sporting and mental activities (Third Geneva Convention Articles 34-38).
11. In the event of employing prisoners of war suitable for work, their age, sex, rank and likewise their physical capability, and for non-military objectives while avoiding the desire for revenge or inflicting humiliation.
Fourth: On Dealing With Public Property, Archaeological Landmarks and Houses of Worship
1. Members of the National Army are obliged to preserve the historical and archaeological landmarks and cultural properties during the military operations, and comply with what has come in the ‘The Hague’ convention of 1954 CE, and being bound by the other relevant agreements.
2. Members of the National Army are obliged to preserve public property and services institutions, and natural resources of the land, as they are considered property of the people.
3. Members of the National Army are obliged to preserve and protect houses of worship of different religions, without differentiating or discriminating between them.
Section Three: Ruling Foundations for the Conduct and Work of Members of the Security Forces
These foundations aim to define the obligations of the member of the security forces, and the legal and ethical standards he must comply with during the undertaking of his obligations, just as they should define his relations with the personnel, contingents and all authorities, and should strive to ensure respect for human rights and protect general freedoms in accordance with our revolutionary principles and international standards. Therefore the member of the security forces is bound by the following obligations:
First: Foundational Principles for the Work of the Security Forces
1. He is to protect security and order, and protect general freedoms, and work tirelessly to apply the laws and systems and secure public ease, and protect public and private property.
2. He is to respect human dignity, and protect human rights.
3. He is to refrain from exploiting authority, and he is to be bound by the laws as he should be an example to others.
4. He is to implement the assignments entrusted to him with all earnestness and initiative.
5. He is to preserve the secrecy of the information he reviews by virtue of his position, and he is not to divulge it exception to the competent authorities.
6. He is to refrain from accepting any tips, gifts or support for him or those under his leadership from any source.
7. He is to deal fairly and justly with all during the implementation of the law.
8. He is forbidden from engaging in racial, ethnic, sectarian or regional discrimination or on the bases of national origin, sex, age or societal status, or any other basis.
9. He is to refrain from undertaking any act of torture or harsh treatment or inhumane treatment or degrading treatment, or inciting to it, or indifference to it during the carrying out of interrogations, or during the implementation of assignments entrusted to him.
10. He is to behave with ethics and refinement, and act with decorum and discipline, linked with determination without haughtiness during the carrying out of the job,
11. He is to act- whether in his professional or private life- in a way that does harm his reputation or the reputation of the institution to which he is affiliated.
13. He is to heed the calls for help and requests for help with speed and active effort, and he is to work to secure the first aid for the wounded of emergency incidents.
14. He is to inform the relevant apparatuses immediately about any action that contravenes the laws and systems.
15. The leaders of the security apparatuses must be the example and exemplar for those they lead in being bound by the clauses of the code and acting in accordance with its spirit.
16. The leaders of the security apparatuses must develop the capability of their members and adopt the appropriate measures against the violators and dealing with those they lead with respect and esteem.
Second: Foundations in Discipline
1. He is to obey his heads in all that concerns service, and he is not to slack during undertaking them.
2. He is to observe the appropriate military attire.
3. He is forbidden to:
– Be neglectful in the secrecy of the security work, or disclose secret information, regardless of the extent of its secrecy.
– Take photos and video clips during work, and during security assignments.
– Giving statements to the media before obtaining prior permission from the relevant authority.
Third: Foundations in Conducting Patrols and Establishing Checkpoints and Inspection Points
1. The members of the security forces must respect human dignity and protect it during their undertaking of their obligations, in what derives from the principles of the Shari’a and the spirit of the revolution, while preserving human rights that are protected in accordance with international laws.
2. People who pass through the inspection checkpoints are to be treated with respect without any discrimination, and in an appropriate and resolute manner, and in a form that safeguards their dignity when they are stopped for inspection, or to confirm their identity or legal documents for the vehicles that they drive.
3. Keeping distance from harmful behaviours in their types like harassing those who cross, or striking them or degrading them.
4. No stirring up of marginal discussions with those who cross that exceed the limits of the required assignment.
5. When one of the persons does not adhere to the orders of the checkpoint personnel, he can be detained through use of force proportionate to the situation, without carelessness or recklessness, in accordance with what necessity demands.
6. To stop the vehicles that exceed their checkpoints (traversing the checkpoint towards them) despite the warnings, gunfire can be launched towards the tire.
7. Checkpoint personnel are to have regard for humanitarian cases whenever they are present.
8. On need for inspection of the women, that is to be done by the female police only, and in an appropriate place.
Fourth: Foundations in Stopping and Dealing With the Detained and Using Firepower
1. It is not allowed to detain any person, arrest or pursue him or censure him except in the cases and in accordance with the procedures stipulated by the law.
2. It is not allowed to enter the residence of a person without his approval, or in his absence, except in flagrante delicto, or relying on judicial warrant (carrying out inspection, detaining a person) and that is between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m.
3. It is forbidden for members of the security forces to use violence towards the detained who show no resistance.
4. It is allowed for the detained to contact one of the members of his family or work companion, under security oversight.
5. The detainee has the right to be treated in accordance with the foundations and principles of the law of human rights.
6. Principles of proportionality are to be observed particular when the matter concerns use of force.
7. It is forbidden to use any form of violence or harsh or degrading treatment, and resorting to harsh methods during the initial interrogation, and it is forbidden to use non-lethal weapons in a form that may cause death.
8. And in all cases, it is forbidden to use force except in the limits, and within the cases that require resorting to that.
9. All the necessary arrangements are to be adopted so as not to wound persons not involved.
10. The use of force may be gradually escalated after using up the other means according to the following: hands, hoses, light batons, non-lethal weapons, heels of rifles, anti-riot ammunition, light weapons, medium weapons) and that is when the life of the soldiers is exposed to danger as the result of the accused possessing weapons.
11. In the event of resorting to opening fire with light weapons, the fire is to be done in accordance with a command from the commander of the forces in the following gradation: warning shot in the air after the warning that the unit will use weapons, clear shot by snipers appointed beforehand on the defined targets of ‘the armed elements’ and on a place in the body that is not lethal, the commander of the forces must define the necessary number of shots to be fired so as to attain the intended result, and to avoid random fire.
Conclusion and Counsels
Compliance with these foundations is to be considered of utmost importance, for what they bear from derivation from our revolutionary principles, and in accordance with the values of our National Army, from what the Islamic Shari’a and other heavenly laws have brought, and which is stipulated by international law, and the relevant international documents and accords.
And earnest compliance with the foundations stipulated by the code will give great support to our just cause, whether from our free people or from the allied states and international community.
According to that: members of the National Army and members of the security forces must:
1. Respect this code of conduct and comply with its clauses, and prevent the occurrence of any violation of its content.
2. Restraining the violations when they occur.
3. Informing the heads and relevant authorities when there occurs or it is likely that imminent violations contrary to this code will occur.
Meanwhile an immediate investigation into all violations of this code will be opened, and the necessary inquiry and accounting will be done by the relevant authorities.