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Syrian Government Brands its Employees “Terrorists”

40,000 employees fired based on unconstitutional administrative decisions

Habib Shehada

A legal article issued by a Syrian presidential decree in 2012 converted tens of thousands of government employees into unemployment status. This occurred without employees receiving their wages or end-of-service benefits, and more importantly, with their stigmatisation and their labelling as terrorists.

Although the article itself is linked to the application of a previous judicial judgment, other powers granted to the prime minister, through another legal article, permitted him to dismiss employees. Additionally, these powers allowed the prime minister to easily enforce certain punishments (of possible political nature) that are not legally justifiable targeting people or even entire regions.

Consequently, the 56-year old principal of the Naba’a Al-Sakhr School in the Quneitra Governorate, Mohammed Mutlaq Al-Dali, was surprised to see that he was no longer a government employee after 33 years of service. A decision was issued on June 22, 2017 by the former prime minister, Imad Khamis, to dismiss him from his service and suspend his pension.

Al-Dali, whose dismissal by an administrative decision was in a clear violation of the executive authority over the judiciary authority, remained at work during the period of the governorate’s exit from the control of the government between 2014-2018. Despite the fact that the Human Resources department in the Quneitra Education Directorate had vehemently confirmed Al-Dali’s commitment to his job (during the period of 2014-2018) through formal communication with the Ministry of Education, his dismissal was not reviewed. This forced him to file a lawsuit in court, which has not been resolved till this day.

According to an anonymous official source in the Department of State Cases, the number of employee dismissal cases filed in the administrative judiciary have reached about 40,000. That is, there are 40,000 former employees of the state who are awaiting justice, after the government branded them "terrorists".

Article 143: The administrative judiciary is the body authorised to inspect and deliberate all disputes arising from this law. This includes financial disputes arising from wages, employee compensation and all other disputes arising between employees and public authorities.

Article 137: While upholding the provisions of the Central Authority for Inspection and the provisions of the Central Financial Authority, the prime minister is permitted by decree (based on the suggestions of a committee consisting of the Minister of Justice, Minister of Social/Public Affairs and Employment, and the head of the Central Financial Authority) to dismiss an employee from their service and liquidate their rights in accordance with the existing laws.

It is not permissible to “use” the dismissed employee according to paragraph 1 of this article — regardless of the nature of such “use” — except by a decree authorised by the Prime Minister.

This investigation indicates that the Prime Minister is in violation of various provisions based on the Syrian constitution and Labor Laws. This violation is a consequence of the unlawful dismissal and termination of employees which have been denied their pensions and compensation. Additionally, lawsuits filed against some employees for unlawfully leaving employment have led to the displacement of thousands of employees without a source of income or livelihood.

Article 1 of Law 20

Any employee, regardless of the law or jurisdiction they are subject to, is dismissed from service and deprived of wages, salaries, compensation and all pension or retirement funds if found (by a judicial ruling) guilty of any acts of terrorism, according to Article 1 of Law 20. This includes any degree of involvement with terrorism either by carrying out any terrorist acts, inciting terrorism, aiding or abetting a terrorist or any form of association with a terrorist organisation.

Political Punishment

MP Muhammad Khair al-Akkam has insisted that Article 1 of Law 20 has been overused since the beginning of the war in Syria. Al-Akkam has called for the referral of dismissed employees to the relevant and appropriate courts instead.

Huda Al-Sawaf, head of the State Cases Department, insists that "those dismissed from their service, particularly those who were in the besieged areas, obtained judicial rulings enabling them to return to their work and recover their financial dues in accordance with the law.” On the other hand, Sawaf indicated that those that left their jobs as a result of the turbulent events that took place have been returned to employment. However, those who travelled abroad or fled were dismissed from their service and sentenced to one month in prison. Sawaf was also quick to acknowledge that there may have been potential injustices enacted upon the employees in the besieged areas.

According to the director of the Labor Legislation Department at the Ministry of Administrative Development, Ghiath Fatoum, the dismissals were of a “political” nature. Fatoum has expressed the following: The employees are dismissed without disclosing the causes for dismissal and can only be returned by a decision signed by the Prime Minister. This unlawfully deprives employees of their right to work for the public service without legal justification.

Therefore, the decision to dismiss employees in this manner is arbitrary and unjustified. Further, they are contrary to what the procedural administrative decisions should be, according to legal advisor Bashir Ezz al-Din. This issue is a clear violation of the constitution, as Ezz al-Din indicates that linking the reappointment of an employee to the approval of the Prime Minister is a denial of the constitutional right that affirms that all citizens are given equal employment opportunities in public service, as stated in Article 26.

Al-Dali’s continued work during the years of the armed factions’ control of his governorate (Quneitra) was with the approval of the security committee and the governor, as he asked all teachers in the governorate to continue working. Al-Dali explains that, just like him, about 70 teachers in the same governorate were dismissed from service. The reason for his dismissal is due to malicious reports by affiliates of certain political parties (i.e. affiliates of the ruling Baath Party in Syria) accusing him of carrying out acts against the state, and belonging to a terrorist organization. Subsequently, Al-Dali was transferred to the Criminal Court. "After serving for 33 years, I became a terrorist!" he says sarcastically as he awaits a just verdict on his court case. Today Al-Dali relies on agricultural work which is “not worthwhile” (according to him) to obtain a modest income to spend on his eight children. The fact that his children are still in education has placed immense financial burdens beyond Al-Dali’s capacity.

This investigation includes a sample of 12 cases of people who were working in different government agencies, and were deprived of their entitlements and their rights guaranteed by the laws.
Below is a list of cases documented by the investigation:

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Type of Job
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Place of Employment
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Conviction
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Verdict in Court
Samer Ezzat
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Teacher
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Quneitra
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none
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under judicial inspection
Alaa
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Teacher
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Douma
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left his work
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Sued by the criminal court for leaving work
Mahmoud
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Teacher
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Quneitra
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none
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under judicial inspection
Nedal
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Engineer
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As-Suwayda
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none
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received 25% compensation but dismissal has not been repealed
Thaer
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Teacher
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Quneitra
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none
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under judicial inspection
Samira
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Employee
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As-Suwayda
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undermining the state
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received 25% compensation
Maher
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Worker
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Deir Al-Zour
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none
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under judicial inspection
Marawan
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Teacher
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Al Furat Oil Company
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none
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under judicial inspection
Hayfaa
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Teacher
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As-Suwayda
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none
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received 25% compensation
Shady
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Teacher
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As-Suwayda
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undermining the state
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did not file a lawsuit
Mohammed
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School Principal
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Quneitra
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none
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under judicial inspection
Ahmad Marwa
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Employee
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Deir Al-Zour
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none
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did not file a lawsuit

31 complaints in Parliament

Under the accusation of “unlawfully abandoning employment”, Alaa, a 50-year old teacher Alaa from Douma, was dismissed from his service and transferred to a criminal court despite the fact that he did not actually quit his job. Douma had fallen under the control of the “Islamic Army” and was besieged for three years. During this time, Alaa did not leave the city once to collect his salary out of fear of being arrested. After the Syrian army regained control of the city, he went to the Damascus Education Directorate to collect his salary for those years, only to be surprised by the decision to dismiss him.

The crime of leaving work in Syrian law is regulated by Article 364 of the Penal Code.

Anyone who accepts work for the state or one of its public institutions according to an appointment issued by that body, and receives a fee for this work, is considered an employee of the state, and she/he must adhere to the regulations and laws, and abide by the entity to which her/his appointment has been made.

The law outlines a punishment of three to five years of imprisonment, and a fine of no less than the employee’s monthly salary with a full year's compensation for those that leave their work in the public sector before obtaining an accepted resignation. The law also applies to those that have been deemed “technically resigned” due to absence from work (for a duration of 15 days or more).

Some of those affected by these decisions have resorted to Parliament to submit their complaints. However, since 2016 the number of these complaints has not exceeded 31, and have focused on returning to work and reversing the dismissals. It is assumed that a committee will follow up the complaints with the government and with the appropriate administrative authority headed by the chairman, Abboud Al-Shawakh.

However, according to the head of the complaints office, Nabil Naji, "there was no response to these complaints, in terms of rehiring or compensating the employees." Further, Naji claims that "there are those who come to us with a judicial decision that allows the employee to return to work, however it is not implemented. At this point, we request the implementation of the decision from the cabinet or on behalf of the employee. Subsequently, the decision is implemented."

Lawyer Reda Haidar attributes the low number of complaints submitted to the Parliament to a "lack of confidence" in him, as most people know that there is no result from the complaint.

Suspicious Charges

Dismissal from service was not restricted to employees in areas of conflict or besieged governorates. Samira Nofal, 53, employee of the Land Reclamation Directorate in Sweida, was dismissed from service after 28 years of government work, on charges of "weakening the national feeling, undermining the state's prestige, and weakening the psyche of the nation.” Nofal indicates “the decision did not provide a clear reason for dismissal, but the administrative court’s decision stipulated these charges.” Nofal filed a lawsuit with the Administrative Court in Suwayda, and obtained a ruling to reverse the charges against her and return to her previous employment, while compensating her with 25% of the value of her salary for the period during which she was suspended from work. However, the Department of State Cases appealed the decision and transferred her case to the Administrative Court in Damascus. The verdict confirmed Nofal’s compensation for her pension entitlements, but this decision was not upheld by her employer as they refused to implement the judicial decision.

A Ruling People's Assembly member expresses his annoyance at charges such as those brought against Samira, and the way in which the file “dismissal from service” is administered, which “should be managed through the competent judiciary only, and not through the Prime Minister.” He stressed that the government must respect the rule of law, the principle Dismissal of powers, and the enforcement of concluded judicial decisions.

Member of parliament Akam expressed his annoyance at charges such as those brought against Nofal, and the way in which the case “dismissal from service” is administered, which “should be managed through the appropriate authority, and not through the Prime Minister.” He stressed that the government must respect the rule of law, the principle of segregation of powers, and enforce the decisions of the appropriate judicial authority.

Lawyer Haydar stresses that "the failure to pay pension entitlements upon the decision to dismiss an employee is against the law." Additionally, those that fail to pay pensions are actively abusing their position of power and it is within the dismissed employee’s right to file a lawsuit against them. Further, this violation may incur a criminal penalty and imprisonment.

However, evidence suggests that none of the dismissed employees filed lawsuits of this kind against any officials, with the exception of Nofal, who specifically accused her manager and the Minister of Agriculture. The outcome of the lawsuit was known in advance, as she was aware that it would not affect the change in the results of her case and the accused parties were not imprisoned.

Undisclosed Matters

MP Akam suggests that Article 137 has been misused and employees have been dismissed for reasons unrelated to their performance. Further, he indicates that even if an employee is guilty of an offense, they must be referred to the appropriate judiciary, and not the executive authority, to rule on his matter, which is the case today.

As for Legal Adviser Ezz El-Din, he believes that in order to achieve justice for those dismissed, certain amendments must be made. Specifically, amending the "unconstitutional" text in Article 137, "which deprives the judiciary of extending its control over the public administration." However, according to Ezz El-Din, this requires "boldness" from the State Council.

This investigation has raised many questions which have been addressed to the government. However, for two months, its press office refused to refer this investigation to the persons authorised to respond.

The response from Morshed Molouk to settle the issue was that "all of those dismissed are armed and have security cases raised against them.” However, this clearly contradicts the reality of all the cases documented by the investigation.

As for the Ministry of Education, the largest government agency to have subjected its employees to dismissals, declined to answer our questions. Further, the Minister of Education, Imad Al-Azab, justified this by claiming "the information within the questions presented are confidential and cannot be published. The dismissals conducted are also of a confidential nature that should not be published."