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Our Reports

A Sword of Damocles

Military conscription is structurally indicated as a main deterrent for the safe return of Syrian military-age men and their relatives. Nonetheless, there are few in-depth reports about and first-hand accounts of those who served their conscription or those who avoided their conscription, to provide an insight into the lived realities of life within, and in the shadow of, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA).

This report aims to give a voice to those adversely affected by military conscription: to men who have experienced life in the SAA and left with significant scars and traumas, as well as military-age men who chose not to serve and live in fear of that decision every day of their lives. These men who choose not to serve often have no prospect of going back to Syria, and are stuck within the country they sought refuge in as a result of the war and their decision to avoid conscription.

A large part of the reason why the issue of military conscription is important is that the SAA has grown past its role as a national army towards a tool to oppress the very population it is supposed to protect. Together with growing inequalities and harsh realities that the SAA is an incubator for, this has led to military conscription becoming an instrument feared by many Syrians today, and an increasing number of desertions and defections.

This study aimed to assess these changing conditions within the SAA, and the consequences that they have on the lives of military-age men and their relatives. The report relied on the real-life testimonies of men who chose to serve, some of whom ended up defecting or deserting, as well as those who chose not to serve at all. Along with the valuable insight gained from these respondents, key informants and experts in the field were also interviewed within the context of this study.

The report found that serving within the SAA takes a grave physical, material and psychological toll on those who serve, as well as those who do not. Moreover, due to the criminalization of draft avoidance, desertion and defection, many of the men who fall under these categories seek refuge outside of Syria for fear of detention and other punishment. As such, returning to Syria for these men is not an option. Presently, the Government of Syria has put in place a system of amnesties and reconciliation agreements, encompassing those who did not serve, that it does not respect, and so these men are at a high risk of harm if they were to cross the border back to their home country.

A Sword of Damocles