This paper analyzes the role of the judiciary in Syria’s strongly authoritarian setting wherein ‘the rule by law’ serves as a tool of repression; qualities that have far-reaching implications for foreign assistance programs on judicial reform, the rule of law and reform generally.
Firstly, the paper argues that Syria showed since 1963 a zigzag pattern wherein modest and indeed inadequate levels of judicialization were interrupted by significant lapses into extra-judicial violence, but more recently gained in significance. Secondly, the main reason why courts matter to the Syrian regime is argued to be related to its discursive and normative notions of statehood and, related to this, its eagerness to display, claim and preserve state sovereignty embodied by courts. Furthermore, it is argued that the modest levels of judicialization of repression and occasional lapses into extra-judicial repression throughout the period under study originated in and are closely intertwined with the role of the legal profession and courts in the wider and historical context of the ‘struggle for Syria’, conceived of in both domestic (political and economic) terms and in terms of real or perceived foreign meddling in Syria’s internal affairs. The judicialization of repression in Syria matters principally in two ways: First, because courts, even when evidently failing to fully respect human rights, on the whole moderate the intensity of regime repression and; second, because the use of courts seems to have helped strategies of ‘upgrading authoritarianism’ and authoritarian resilience.
This publication is part of the working paper series of the Knowledge Programme Civil Society in West Asia.