[JURIST] Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [official website, JURIST news archive] on Monday declared a general amnesty for the country’s prisoners, appearing to apply the decree to at least some anti-government activists and protesters, according to the official SANA news agency [official website]. The declaration closely follows the president’s reelection last week to another seven-year term. While SANA did not state whether the amnesty would apply to the thousands of opposition supporters and their relatives that human rights groups say are imprisoned within the country, its report did suggest that it would result in the lessening of some prisoners’ sentences [AP report] rather than freeing them. According to Syrian lawmaker Issam Khalil, the decree covers those who supported the armed opposition and will allow them to return to their normal lives. Also on Monday, Qatar Prime Minister Sheik Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani called on the UN Security Council [official website] to insist on a cease-fire in Syria, though peace talks between the government and the Syrian opposition were met with little success earlier this year.
The Syrian Civil War [JURIST backgrounder] has persisted for almost three years. The conflict has been highlighted by countless human rights violations and use of chemical weaponry, which has created mounting pressure among the international community to find an end to the conflict. In March Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] accused [JURIST report] the Syrian president’s forces of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity on Palestinian and Syrian civilians in Yarmouk, on the outskirts of Damascus. Also in March the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic [official website] urged the international community [JURIST report] to respond to recent and reoccurring crimes against humanity perpetrated by both government and non-government entities. In February the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported [JURIST report] that both sides have been committing human rights violations. The day before, Syria agreed [JURIST report] to dispose of their chemical weapons. The UN released a report [JURIST report] earlier in February to the Security Council, highlighting the severe suffering faced by children in Syria during the period between March 2011 and November 2013. The report stated that the Syrian government and military allies have killed and tortured extensive numbers of children, while opposition forces have recruited children to aid in combat and have summarily executed children as well.