An international human rights group said Friday that Syria's president has done "virtually nothing" to improve human rights and expand freedoms during his decade in power.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said President Bashar Assad has failed to deliver on promises of reform when he came to power 10 years ago this month.
"Whether President Assad wanted to be a reformer but was hampered by an entrenched old guard or has been just another Arab ruler unwilling to listen to criticism, the outcome for Syria's people is the same: no freedom, no rights," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
The report comes as Syria tries to emerge from international isolation and improve relations with Arab and Western states. The United States has boosted engagement with Syria in the hopes of drawing the country away from Iran and the militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas.
Syrian officials were not available for comment Friday and generally do not respond to such criticism.
The Syrian leader has slowly moved to lift Soviet-style economic restrictions his father and predecessor, Hafez Assad, left him. He has loosened the reins on banking, sought to attract foreign investment, and encouraged tourism and private education.
But he has not matched his liberal economic policies with any political
Human Rights Watch, in a 35-page report called "A Wasted Decade," said
Syria's secret police detain people without arrest warrants and torture
"with complete impunity." The report also cited widespread censorship
and banning of websites such as Facebook.
When he first came to power in 2000, Assad allowed political discussion
groups to hold small gatherings in a period that came to be known as the
But he soon began to clamp down on pro-democracy activists, sending the
regime's secret police to raid their meetings.
"The period of tolerance that followed Assad's ascent to power was
short-lived, and Syria's prisons quickly filled again with political
prisoners, journalists, and human rights activists," the report said.