Enforced Disappearance Pandemic Ravages Syrian Society with Nearly 100,000 Disappeared Syrians since March 2011, Most of Whom by the Syrian Regime
(Link below to download full report)
The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) states in its ninth annual report issued today on the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances that there is no political solution without resolving the issue of the disappeared, noting that an enforced disappearance pandemic ravages Syrian society with nearly 100,000 disappeared Syrians since March 2011, the vast majority by the Syrian regime.
The 35-page report reveals that enforced disappearance has been used as a weapon of suppression, war and terrorism since the first days of the popular uprising for democracy in 2011, and has continued to be used in an escalating fashion throughout the subsequent nine years up to the current day. All the data on this issue confirms that the Syrian regime is the party primarily responsible for using this crime in a systematic and widespread manner, being responsible for nearly 85% of the total number of cases of enforced disappearance documented.
The report notes that the majority of victims of enforced disappearance were arrested during the first three years of the popular uprising (2011 – 2012 – 2013). The wave of enforced disappearances during these years, which witnessed the largest numbers of arrests, aimed to break and destroy the popular movement and to terrorize those supporting freedom into silence and submission.
The report further emphasizes that the regime uses the strategy of enforced disappearance with the objective of terrifying and terrorizing society by exposing some of its members to an unknown fate, turning them into mere question marks. Meanwhile, the ensuing social and economic repercussions, as with the repercussions of the crime of enforced disappearance itself, are not limited to the victims alone, but extend to their families who suffer under the weight of loss, the long, torturous wait and constant worry for their loved ones and their impotence in light of the absence of any legal steps that they can take to help the victim due to the security services’ primacy over all aspects of life, with these authorities being the ones responsible for arrests and enforced disappearances; this is added to the constant psychological suffering of not knowing the fate of their loved ones.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, Chairman of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, says:
“The negotiation sessions must be preceded by some positive measures, foremost of which is the disclosure of the fate of 100,000 forcibly disappeared Syrian citizens. The entire international community has failed to secure the release or reveal the fate of one forcibly disappeared Syrian citizen over nine years, so how could it succeed in completing a political transition process towards democracy and human rights? Instead of revealing the fate of the already disappeared persons, additional numbers of Syrian citizens are being forcibly disappeared, mainly by Syrian regime forces; this, without any doubt, constitutes a crime against humanity.”
The report outlines the record of victims of enforced disappearance since the beginning of the popular uprising for democracy in March 2011 up to August 2020, and focuses mainly on the violations documented by the SNHR team between August 30, 2019, and August 30, 2020. The report also details the Syrian regime’s continuing registration of some of the disappeared persons as dead through its Civil Registry Departments.
The report is based on the data from the SNHR’s database, which the SNHR has been working on and building continuously for nine years to date, as well as on the interviews we conducted with families of victims who were forcibly disappeared from different Syrian governorates, carrying out these interviews either by telephone or various online communication programs or by visiting the them in their homes inside and outside Syria. The report provides 14 accounts, which were obtained directly rather than from open sources.
The report reveals the regular periodic correspondence conducted by the SNHR team with the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID), noting that the SNHR has received many official responses about the cases it has submitted to them, via letters showing the cases that the WGEID sent to the Syrian regime from among the cases SNHR shared with the WGEID, which are listed in the special annex on the report prepared by the WGEID in Syria.
The report notes that the SNHR has devoted a form on its official website that families can fill out, with the completed forms being sent automatically to the team at the Detainees and Forcibly Disappeared Persons Department that follows up on each case and communicates with the families to complete the documentation and registration process.
In this regard, the report requests further cooperation from victim’s families in order to submit as many cases as possible to the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, noting that the SNHR team works continuously to build extensive relations with the families of the forcibly disappeared, to obtain as much data as possible which is stored within our database of enforced disappearance cases.
From March 2011 to August 2020, as the report notes, at least 148,191 individuals are still arrested/ detained or forcibly disappeared at the hands of the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria. Of these, 130,758 individuals, including 3,584 children and 7,990 women are still detained or forcibly disappeared by the Syrian regime, while a further 8,648 individuals, including 319 children and 225 women, are still disappeared by ISIS, and 2,125 additional individuals, including 19 children and 33 women are still detained or forcibly disappeared by Hay’at Tahrir al Sham.
In addition to these, the report further reveals that another 3,262 individuals, including 324 children and 786 women, are documented as being still detained or forcibly disappeared by the Armed Opposition/ Syrian National Army, while 3,398 individuals, including 620 children and 169 women, are still detained or forcibly disappeared at the hands of Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.
As the report reveals, at least 99,479 individuals have been forcibly disappeared between March 2011 and August 2020 at the hands of the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria, with 84,371 of this total disappeared by Syrian Regime forces, including 1,738 children and 4,982 women, and an additional 8,648 individuals, including 319 children and 225 women, disappeared by ISIS. Meanwhile HTS was responsible for disappearing 2,007 individuals, including 11 children and 27 women.
The report also notes that 2,397 individuals, including 238 children and 446 women, are still forcibly disappeared by the Armed Opposition/ Syrian National Army, while 2,056 individuals, including 93 children and 87 women, are still forcibly disappeared by Syrian Democratic Forces.
The report provides an accumulative linear graph showing the steadily rising number of enforced disappearances since March 2011, with the annual record showing that 2012 was the worst year to date in terms of the total number forcibly disappeared in that period, followed by 2013.
The report also outlines the distribution of the record of the forcibly disappeared by the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria according to the Syrian governorates where the victims were arrested; that is, according to the place where the arrest took place, rather than the governorate which the detainee comes from, with Damascus Suburbs governorate seeing the highest record of victims of enforced disappearance, followed by Aleppo then Damascus.
The report notes that the Syrian regime has continued to register some of the disappeared persons as dead through the Civil Registry Departments since early 2018, with the total of documented cases reaching at least 991 cases of forcibly disappeared persons, in which the Syrian regime revealed the fate of the disappeared, all of whom had died in detention, including nine children and two women, since the beginning of 2018 until August 2020. The regime didn’t disclose the cause of death, with the families not being given their loved ones’ bodies or being informed of the place of their burial.
The report notes that the Syrian regime has demonstrated a lack of commitment to the international agreements and treaties it has ratified, in particular the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights. In addition, the Syrian regime has violated a number of articles of the Syrian constitution itself as hundreds of thousands of detainees have been detained for many years with no arrest warrants being issued or any charges brought against them. The Syrian regime has also denied those detainees the right to an attorney and barred their families from visiting them. Approximately 65% of all detainees have become enforced-disappearance cases as the Syrian regime has never informed their families of their whereabouts. Any attempt by detainees’ family members to inquire about the whereabouts of their loved ones may put the families themselves at risk of being arrested.
The report further notes that enforced disappearances have been carried out in the context of a widespread assault against all civilian population groups. The Syrian regime was the first party to introduce the violation of enforced disappearances as an unofficial policy, and is by far the most prolific perpetrator of this crime, which constitute a crime against humanity under Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. It is also considered a war crime under Article 8 of the Rome Statute itself due to its being practiced as part of a systematic and public policy in the effort to crush the popular uprising for democracy, overwhelmingly by the Syrian regime.
The report adds that the rest of the parties involved in Syria also practiced the crime of enforced disappearance, although it did not play the same central and systematic role in their activities as the Syrian regime, as shown by differs from the quantity and distribution of cases, with the report clarifying that the ISIS organization and Hay’at Tahrir al Sham are similar to the Syrian regime in expanding the prevalence of cases and its methodology.
The report demands that the Syrian regime stop terrorizing the Syrian people through enforced disappearances, torture, and death due to torture, as well as tampering with and exploiting civil records to serve the goals of the ruling family, and that it take full responsibility for all legal and material costs, and compensate the victims and their families from the resources of the Syrian state.
The report recommends that the UN Security Council and the United Nations should hold emergency meeting to discuss this critical matter that threatens the fates of nearly 100,000 individuals and terrorizes the whole of Syrian society. The report also calls on them to work to reveal the fate of the forcibly disappeared persons in parallel with or prior to the start of the political process rounds, and to set a strict timetable to reveal their fate.
The report calls on the UN Human Rights Council to follow up on the issue of the detainees and forcibly disappeared persons in Syria, to shed light on it at all periodic annual meetings, and to dedicate a special session to addressing this horrifying threat.
Additionally, the report urges the OHCHR to prepare a special and extensive report that sheds light on this catastrophe including all of its psychological, social, and economic ramifications, and to support active human rights organizations in Syria.
The report concludes with a recommendation that the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances should increase the manpower available to work on the issue of forcibly disappeared persons at the office of the Special Rapporteur on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances in Syria in light of the massive level and extent of cases of enforced disappearance in the country.