Nearly Two Years Since the Defeat of ISIS, the Fate of 8,684 Persons Forcibly Disappeared by ISIS Remains Unknown
Press release (Link below to download full report):
Paris – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) issued a report today on the most notable ISIS violations against the Syrian society and ISIS’ contribution to distorting the popular uprising calling for freedom and dignity, in which SNHR reveals that ISIS has killed 5,043 individuals, including 32 due to torture, since the organization’s establishment, noting that despite the passage of almost two years since the defeat of ISIS, the fate of 8,684 persons forcibly disappeared by ISIS remains unknown.
The 42-page report, which provides a brief background on the roots of ISIS and its establishment in Syria, notes that ISIS emerged two years after the start of the popular uprising in Syria in March 2011, in which the Syrian people called for freedom and dignity, with the Syrian regime responding to these calls with brutal violations, some of which amounted to crimes against humanity. Extremist organizations benefited from the chaos and the continuation of the conflict in Syria for more than two years, capitalizing on the apparent complete impunity accorded to the Syrian regime, the lack of any prospect of a political solution, and the widespread despair and anger at the regime’s use of chemical weapons, barrel bombs, lethal torture and other heinous practices to create a narrative based primarily on falsely positioning the extremists as the only alternative willing to right these injustices and avenge the regime’s victims, which ISIS claimed it would achieve by establishing a state supposedly built on Islamic foundations. The report provides a summary of the most notable violations committed by ISIS in Syria, and focuses mainly on the issue of persons forcibly disappeared at the hands of ISIS given that this is still an ongoing, active issue and that insufficient efforts have been made to address it.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, Director of SNHR, says:
“There was a glimmer of hope among the families of persons forcibly disappeared by ISIS that after the defeat of the organization, the fate of their loved ones would be revealed. However, more than two years since the organization lost its last strongholds, their fate remains unknown. Frustration, mixed with intense anger, prevails among the families, and the more time passes, the more complex and difficult the task of revealing the fate of the disappeared becomes.”
This report relies mainly on analysis of the SNHR team’s continuous daily monitoring and documentation of violations committed by ISIS, pointing to a change in the areas of control whose peoples were subjected to most of the violations documented were concentrated in the areas that were subject to ISIS crimes in the governorates of Raqqa, Deir Ez-Zour and Aleppo, given that these were the main ISIS-held areas and were under its control for a longer period compared to areas in other governorates such as Damascus, Daraa, Hama or Homs. The report’s methodology is also based on an analysis of documents obtained by SNHR, some of which come from open sources while others were provided by witnesses, in addition to photographed publications that ISIS circulated to residents of the areas it controlled as well as interviews SNHR conducted with witnesses and survivors of ISIS’ detention centers; victims who were subjected to other types of violations by the organization, who come from different governorates and include civilians, activists, or workers in several fields; and family members of victims. The report provides 10 accounts as a qualitative sample.
Since April 2013 until January 2022, the report documents the deaths of at least 5,043 individuals, including 958 children and 587 women (adult female), at the hands of ISIS or as a consequence of ISIS’ actions. As the chart provided in the report shows, this death toll was distributed as follows: 4,428, including 910 children and 539 women were killed through unlawful combat attacks; 32, including one child and 14 women, were killed due to torture and neglect of health care; and 536, including 31 children and 24 women, were killed by execution following summary and arbitrary trial proceedings. The report also documents the deaths of 47 individuals, including 16 children and 10 women, who died due to lack of food and medicine as a result of the siege imposed by ISIS on their areas.
Data analysis shows that 2017 was the worst year in terms of the death toll from extrajudicial killings, followed by 2016, 2015, then 2018. Meanwhile, another chart in the report shows the distribution of the death toll of extrajudicial killings at the hands of ISIS according to the Syrian governorates from which the victims originated, the highest death toll from extrajudicial killings was seen in Deir Ez-Zour governorate, which accounted for 30.43% of the total, followed by Aleppo, Raqqa, then Homs.
As the report reveals, at least 8,684 of the individuals forcibly disappeared by ISIS since the announcement of its establishment in early April 2013 are still documented as forcibly disappeared as of January 2022, including 319 children and 255 women (adult female). According to the cumulative linear graph of this record, 2016 was the worst, followed by 2017, 2015, then 2018. The report also provides a chart of the record of detainees/forcibly disappeared persons held by ISIS according to the Syrian governorates from which the victims originated, which shows that Deir Ez-Zour governorate is ahead of all other governorates, accounting for 18.63 %, followed by Aleppo, then Raqqa. The report also provides a chart of the record of detainees/forcibly disappeared persons held by ISIS according to the location of the detention/ kidnapping incident, which shows that Raqqa governorate is ahead of all other governorates, followed by Deir Ez-Zour, Aleppo, then Homs.
As the report further reveals, ISIS carried out at least five chemical weapon attacks, all in Aleppo governorate. These attacks injured 132 individuals.
The report notes that ISIS’ enforced disappearances have remained an unresolved issue for years, and that what distinguishes this issue is that these individuals’ fate has not been revealed, despite all the former ISIS detention centers being liberated and no longer under the organization’s control. As the report further notes, ISIS has practiced enforced disappearances on a widespread basis against all groups in society and in every area it controlled or was present in, using this as a weapon of terror and intimidation and as a strategy to deter and crush its opponents, including activists, dignitaries and influential figures, as well as during its attacks on areas outside its control. ISIS also specifically targeted foreigners with the aim of obtaining huge sums of money in ransoms, as well as journalists, aid workers, media activists, humanitarian organizations’ personnel, members of ethnic and religious minorities, and individuals accused of violating the extremist doctrines and edicts imposed by the group, whether religious or otherwise. Those forcibly disappeared also included fighters from groups opposing ISIS.
In a related context, the report provides a map of the most prominent detention centers used by ISIS, and confirms that these detention centers were empty when ISIS withdrew from each of the areas as it evacuated prisoners from its detention centers upon withdrawing. Accordingly, the report stresses the importance of seriously investigating the issue of the individuals still missing and forcibly disappeared by ISIS.
As the report further reveals, those detained and forcibly disappeared by ISIS were subjected to extremely cruel torture methods. ISIS used methods of torture similar to those practiced by the Syrian regime. The report provides details of the 17 most prominent methods of torture characteristically used by ISIS, meaning those methods which its members practiced repeatedly and extensively; these number 15 physical methods and 2 psychological methods.
The report documents the deaths of dozens of detainees at ISIS’ hands and provides details on five of the main types of killings carried out by ISIS against detainees, namely the killing of detainees before reaching detention centers, killing detainees before withdrawing from areas under ISIS control, killing detainees by assigning them dangerous jobs that could lead to their death, killing detainees through very summary procedures, and killing detainees in ostentatious ways which confirm ISIS’ indifference to their victims’ lives.
The report notes that the US-led Coalition forces played an essential role in eliminating ISIS, with the SDF taking control of the territories that had been under ISIS control. This controlling force bears civil, legal and human rights responsibilities to the society it now controls. The issue of the persons forcibly disappeared by ISIS is one of the most prominent and important issues affecting tens of thousands of families in these areas. Despite the defeat of ISIS since March 2019 from its last stronghold in Deir Ez-Zour, and many months before that from the governorates of Raqqa and Hasaka, no real efforts have been made by the controlling force to reveal the fate of the forcibly disappeared.
The report stresses that as a party to the internal armed conflict, ISIS is legally compelled to abide by international humanitarian law. ISIS also took control of large areas of land, and, therefore, as a dominant force, it is compelled to respect international human rights law.
The report adds that ISIS has clearly violated the principles of distinction and proportionality in many bombardment incidents, with some attacks causing material and human losses. Such indiscriminate attacks on populated areas constitute a terrible violation of international humanitarian law.
ISIS has violated international humanitarian law by using an internationally prohibited weapon, and thus has committed a war crime, as well as violated the Security Council resolutions in this regard.
The report notes that ISIS has committed widespread violations of international human rights law against the people in areas under its control through kidnappings, arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances and torture, and also prevented people from leaving the areas under its control in order to exploit them for cover and use them as human shields. ISIS has also perpetrated acts of violence against the detainees it held, including torture, poor detention conditions, and summary executions against civilians and prisoners from the ranks of Armed Opposition fighters, SDF, and Syrian regime forces, in violation of Common Article III to the Geneva Conventions, and customary international law, amounting to a war crime.
As the report reveals, the international community and UN Security Council’s negligence in failing to resolve the conflict in Syria has contributed to strengthening ISIS’ power and ability to spread its extremist ideology, resulting in the continuation of tyranny and human rights violations.
The report recommends that the UN Security Council and the international community should support local communities and organizations that contribute to spreading religious and political awareness based on respect for human rights, and to take serious steps to end the conflict in Syria, including establishing a strict timetable for the political transition process in accordance with Security Council Resolution 2254, as this process has remained stagnant since the Geneva Communiqué of June 2012 to date.
The report further stresses that extremist organizations pose an existential threat to all the people of Syria and possess material resources that enable them to pay the salaries of their fighters. It is imperative to support all moderate societal factions in their war against such globalized extremist organizations, with all possible forms of financial and military support.
The report also provides several other additional recommendations.