Rights groups urge action on fate of missing Syrians

Rights groups call for action on fate of thousands of missing Syrians
3 min read
Eight human rights groups have called on the international community to take stronger measures to reveal the fate of tens of thousands of forcibly disappeared Syrians.
A Syrian protester calls for the release of detainees [Getty]

Rights groups on Monday urged the international community to pressure all sides in Syria's conflict to reveal the fate of "tens of thousands" of people gone missing over years of conflict.

"Tens of thousands have been forcibly disappeared by the Syrian government; and many have gone missing after being abducted by armed anti-government groups or Islamic State," eight Syrian and international rights groups said in a statement.

"Hundreds have died in detention of torture or ill-treatment," said the statement, whose signatories included Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Families for Freedom, a women-led organisation of relatives of disappeared and imprisoned Syrians.

An estimated 200,000 people have gone missing since the start of the conflict in 2011. The report noted that the Syrian regime continues to hold tens of thousands of people in custody or has subjected them to forced disappearance.

Many have been subject to "staggering levels of serious violations" committed by regime forces, including extrajudicial executions, torture, forced disappearance and arbitrary detention, the rights groups said.

They include activists, lawyers, journalists and humanitarian aid workers, some of whom opposed the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, it added.

'Serious violations'

Anti-regime groups have also committed “serious violations of international humanitarian law” such as abductions, torture and summary killings, according to the statement.

The formerly Al-Qaeda affiliated group Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which controls most of Idlib province, had detained hundreds of people who had protested their rule or documented abuses by them, the statement said.

The report called on member states of the UN security council to "end the suffering of the families of the disappeared and of the arbitrarily detained" by putting "pressure" on the culprits and their international backers to reveal the names, fate and whereabouts of the thousands concerned.

It also called on the international community to "support the creation of a unified system for logging all cases of missing persons in Syria".

Rarely told where their loved ones are held or whether they are still alive, the relatives of the missing often have to shuffle between different regime security agencies in a desperate bid to collect information. 

Starting in May 2018, the Syrian regime started updating its civil records with the names of those who have died in its custody and in some cases provided families with death certificates that date as far back as 2013, the statement said.

"However, the government has not responded to requests by families of detainees to obtain information on the circumstances of the enforced disappearances or the causes of death, or to take possession of the remains of those who died," said the statement.

"As things stand, there is no way to verify the deaths without the government returning the remains to the families," it added, noting that many people were too scared to request additional information about the deaths of their loved ones.

The civil war in Syria has killed more than 500,000 people and displaced millions since it started with the brutal repression of anti-regime protests in 2011.

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