Nearly 102,000 Syrian Citizens Forcibly Disappeared Since March 2011, Mostly by the Syrian Regime, to Destroy Them and Intimidate the Entire Population
Press release (Link below to download full report):
Paris – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) issues its tenth annual report on Enforced Disappearance in Syria on the occasion of the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances August 30, in which SNHR emphasizes that the disappeared persons in Syria and their families suffer a constant sense of grief and loss. The report reveals that the number of people detained since March 2011 who still remain forcibly disappeared as of August 2021 has now reached at least 102,287 individuals, the vast majority of whom were detained by the Syrian regime, which disappears people with the aim of destroying them and intimidating the entire population.
The 49-page report, which provides details on a large number of enforced disappearance incidents, as well as testimonies from victims’ families, reveals that the phenomenon of enforced disappearance in Syria is organically linked to the phenomenon of arbitrary arrest, with most of those subjected to arbitrary detention going on to be classified as forcibly disappeared. The report adds that the Syrian regime has targeted participants in political demonstrations against its rule with widespread arbitrary arrests since the early days of the popular uprising in March 2011, and has systematically used enforced disappearance as one of its most notorious tools of repression and terrorism aimed at crushing and destroying political opponents simply for expressing their opinion; the regime has also harnessed the capabilities of the security services and its tens of thousands of personnel to this end.
The report explains that the first years of the mass uprising saw the highest percentage of enforced disappearances because the demonstrations were taking place intensively, and within areas under the control of the Syrian regime, with the massive scale of the arrests and disappearances making the Syrian regime the worst globally in the twenty-first century in terms of forcibly disappearing its citizens, as the report notes.
The report adds that in the areas where the Syrian regime regained control after they had managed to escape from its control, hundreds of cases of enforced disappearance have been documented against the people of those areas, all of which confirm the Syrian regime’s continuing endeavors to persecute and punish even the most peripheral participants in the popular uprising against it. This also proves, as we have repeated dozens of times, that it is impossible for Syria to reach a state of stability with even minimal respect for the most basic rights of the Syrian citizen so long as the brutal security services that slavishly follow the orders of the Syrian regime survive; this means that the idea of any credible political solution being achieved while these security services continue to wield power without being held accountable for their terrible crimes is simply absurd.
As the report reveals, all parties to the conflict and the controlling forces have practiced widespread arbitrary detentions and enforced disappearances of Syrian citizens in connection with the armed conflict, within the areas under their control, with the aim of intimidating political opponents and subjugating society in their areas of control. As the report further explains, the repercussions of the crime of enforced disappearance are not limited to the victims only, but also extend to their families, who suffer from loss, stress, years of waiting, and absolute helplessness, in the absence of any legal procedures they can take to assist their loved ones.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, Director of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, says:
“The Syrian regime has harnessed enormous economic and human capabilities to arrest and disappear this huge number of Syrian citizens in order to crush and exterminate them politically, at a time when the Syrian people and state are suffering from extreme poverty that affects 85% of the total population, with the Syrian regime still continuing to persecute anyone who dares to criticize it. This confirms the absurdity of any political solution in the presence of the security services that have not changed their brutal policy at all, bolstered by the success of the Syrian regime with Russian/Iranian support in achieving impunity, and the international community’s failure to hold any Syrian official accountable, despite the enforced disappearances practiced by the Syrian regime amounting to crimes 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 2021, focusing mainly on the violations documented by the SNHR team between August 30, 2020, and August 30, 2021. The report also details the Syrian regime’s continuing manipulation of laws through registering some of the disappeared persons as dead through its Civil Registry Departments. In addition, the report also provides the names of the most prominent leaders of the Syrian regime’s security services involved in the crime of enforced disappearance of tens of thousands of Syrian citizens.
The report relies mainly on the data from the SNHR’s database, which the SNHR has been working on and building continuously for ten years to date, as well as on the interviews we conducted with families of victims who were forcibly disappeared from different Syrian governorates. The report provides 18 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), the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, as well as with the UN Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
From March 2011 to August 2021, as the report notes, at least 149,862 individuals, including 4,931 children and 9,271 women, are still arrested/ detained or forcibly disappeared at the hands of the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria. Of these, 131,469 individuals, including 3,621 children and 8,037 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 2,287 additional individuals, including 37 children and 44 women, are still detained or forcibly disappeared by Hay’at Tahrir al Sham.
In addition to these, the report further reveals that another 3,641 individuals, including 296 children and 759 women, are documented as being still detained or forcibly disappeared by the Armed Opposition/ Syrian National Army, while 3,817 individuals, including 658 children and 176 women, are still detained or forcibly disappeared at the hands of Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.
As the report reveals, at least 102,287 individuals, including 2,405 children and 5,801 women, are still forcibly disappeared between March 2011 and August 2021 at the hands of the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria, with 86,792 of this total disappeared by Syrian regime forces, including 1,738 children and 4,986 women, and an additional 8,648 individuals, including 319 children and 225 women, disappeared by ISIS. Meanwhile HTS was responsible for disappearing 2,064 individuals, including 13 children and 28 women.
The report also notes that 2,567 individuals, including 237 children and 446 women, are still forcibly disappeared by the various Armed Opposition factions/ Syrian National Army since 2011 to date, in all the areas it controlled or controls, while 2,216 individuals, including 98 children and 86 women, are still forcibly disappeared by Syrian Democratic Forces.
The report provides an accumulative linear graph showing the record of enforced disappearances since March 2011, as well as providing a table showing the distribution of this record by year, showing that the first four years of the popular uprising for democracy saw the largest waves of enforced disappearances, with the annual record showing that 2012 was the worst year to date in terms of the number of people forcibly disappeared, followed by 2013, 2011, then 2014.
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, Damascus, then Deir Ez-Zour.
The report notes that since early 2018, the Syrian regime has continued registering many of the detainees previously forcibly disappeared in its detention centers as dead in the records maintained by the state Civil Registry departments, with the number of cases documented, as the report reveals, reaching at least 1,002 cases of forcibly disappeared persons, including nine children and two women, in which the Syrian regime revealed the fate of the disappeared through registering their deaths at Civil Registry offices, all of whom had died in detention, since the beginning of 2018 until August 2021. The regime failed to 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 adds that the Syrian regime have harnessed several levels of the Syrian state institutions to implement this procedure in violation of Syrian law and to manipulate the data on the forcibly disappeared recorded at the Civil Registry, with this blatantly illegal manipulation starting with the ministries of Interior and Justice, and extending to Civil Registry officials in all Syrian governorates.
The report adds that under international humanitarian law, commanders and other senior officials are held responsible for war crimes committed by their subordinates, noting that enforced disappearance has been practiced according to a general methodology, with a decision taken to employ this as a policy according to the chain of command that starts from the President of the Republic and is directly linked to him by the Ministries of Defense and Interior, the National Security Office, and the associated security services; the report provided the names of the most prominent leaders of the Syrian regime involved in the crime of enforced disappearance, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights database of data of perpetrators of violations.
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 69% 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 attack against all civilian population groups. The Syrian regime was the first party to perpetrate the violation of enforced disappearances, and is by far the most prolific perpetrator of this crime, with other parties left far behind in terms of the number of enforced disappearances, 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 other parties involved in Syria have also practiced the crime of enforced disappearance, although without the centralized and systematic nature of the Syrian regime, which differs from them in the vast quantity and distribution of cases, with the report noting that the ISIS group and Hay’at Tahrir al Sham are similar to the Syrian regime in the widespread and systematic nature of such cases.
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 102,000 Syrian citizens 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 upcoming rounds of the political process, and to set a strict timetable to reveal their fate.
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, as well as providing a number of other recommendations.