Syrian Arab Republic
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Located in the Levant along the Mediterranean, Syria borders Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and, in part along the disputed Golan Heights frontier, Israel. Ruled by the Ba’ath party since 1966 and by the Assad family since 1970, Syria is a military dictatorship with limited democratic mechanisms and harsh suppression of opposition to the regime. Since 2011, the country has been in the grip of a brutal civil war with widespread human rights abuses by both the government and by elements among the rebel militias, hundreds of thousands of casualties and millions of refugees displaced.
Syria, officially the Syrian Arab Republic, borders Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest. The capital is Damascus.
Population and language
Syria's approximately 17.8 million inhabitants practise a variety of faiths, and the country is home to diverse ethnic and religious groups, including Kurds, Armenians, Assyrians, Christians, Druze, Alawite Shias and Arab Sunnis, the last of whom make up the majority of the Muslim population.
The official language is Arabic.
Modern Syria gained its independence from France in 1946 but experienced periods of political instability driven by the conflicting interests of these various groups.
From 1958 to 1961, Syria united with Gamal Abdel Nasser's Egypt, but an army coup restored independence before the pan-Arab Baath (Renaissance) party took control in 1963, which still rules to this day.The Baath government has seen authoritarian rule at home and a strong anti-Israeli policy abroad, particularly under former President Hafez al-Assad.
In 1967 Syria lost the Golan Heights to the Israelis, while civil war in neighbouring Lebanon allowed it to extend its political and military influence in the region. A referendum in 2007 endorsed Bashar al-Assad as president for a second seven-year term. He was the only candidate. Syria pulled its forces out of Lebanon in 2005, having come under intense international pressure to do so.
As a result of the declaration of the emergency law that has been in force since 1962, civil and political rights enshrined in the Constitution continue to be suspended. But cracks in the tightly controlled political edifice began to appear in early 2011, in the wake of the "Arab Spring" wave of popular dissent that swept across North Africa and the Middle East.
Ranking 106 out of 177 in the global Human Development Index (HDI) of the UNDP 2004 Human Development Report, Syria falls well within the category of "medium human development." In the last four decades, Syria has made significant progress in many areas of human development such as life expectancy, primary school enrolment rates, immunisation rates and infant and child mortality.
Media and civil society
The government and ruling party own and control much of the media. Criticism of the president and his family is banned and the domestic and foreign press are censored. Journalists practise self-censorship and foreign reporters rarely get accreditation. Private TV networks and FM radio stations broadcast on air, but they cannot transmit news or political content. Many viewers watch pan-Arab TV stations; there are no restrictions on the use of satellite receivers.
The State exercises strict internet censorship and blocks many global websites with local appeal, including Facebook and YouTube, as well as opposition sites.
Human rights and children's rights
Human rights defenders in Syria continue to face harassment, arbitrary arrests and detention, unfair trials, prolonged imprisonment, torture and 'disappearance' by Syrian security forces. Emergency rule, imposed in 1963, remains in effect today and provides for many derogations of the law without any accountability for those derogations. Syria has a long record of prosecuting human rights defenders for peacefully expressing their opinions and speaking out against violations of human rights.
Syria ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) on 14 August 1993. In October 2003, Syria acceded to the Optional Protocols to the CRC on the involvement of children in armed conflict, and on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. The Committee on the Rights of the Child has expressed its concern that traditional attitudes towards children in society may limit the respect for their views, especially within the family and schools, and that children are not systematically heard in court and administrative proceedings in matters that affect them.
- Gamal Abdel Nasser led the Egyptian Revolution on pan-Arab nationalism of 1952
- Hauser Global Law School Program, Globalex "Constitutional Law and Courts’ System in the Syrian Arab Republic"
- UNDP: Syria Country Profile
- UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights: Syria Country Page
- World Bank: Syria Country Profile
- BBC: Syria Country Profile
- UNICEF: Syria Country Page
- Frontline Defenders: Syria Country Profile
- CIVICUS: Syria
- Population: 21,117,700 (UNDP, 2012)
- Population under 18: 8,923,000 (UNICEF, 2011)
- Number of internet users: 5,069,418 (22.5% of the population) (Internet World Stats, 2012)
- Human Development Index ranking: 116 (UNDP, 2012)
- Happy Planet Index ranking: 47 (Happy Planet Countries: Syrian Arab Republic, 2012)