Serious Concerns over the Fate of 86,792 Syrian Citizens Who Remain Forcibly Disappeared by the Syrian Regime
Paris – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) reveals in its latest report, issued today, that the Syrian regime has acknowledged the deaths of 1,056 Syrian citizens who were forcibly disappeared by the regime through the country’s Civil Registry departments, including 54 individuals from Deir al Asafeer town whose fate the regime revealed in February and March 2022. SNHR stresses that there are serious concerns over the fate of 86,792 Syrian citizens who remain forcibly disappeared by the Syrian regime.
The 14-page report notes that the Syrian regime has been deliberately concealing the fates of tens of thousands of detainees in order to inflict as much agony, trauma, and degradation as possible upon their families, adding that many of those still documented as forcibly disappeared have been ‘disappeared’ for years, noting that the SNHR’s database includes data on at least 86,792 persons forcibly disappeared by the Syrian regime, including 1,738 children and 4,966 women, between March 2011 and August 2021. The report provides a cumulative linear graph showing this record, with SNHR noting that the analysis of the data showed that the first four years of the popular uprising for democracy saw the highest waves of enforced disappearances, with 2012 the worst year to date in terms of the record of the forcibly disappeared, followed by 2013, 2011, and 2014.
As the report notes, since early 2018, the Syrian regime has been registering many of the detainees previously forcibly disappeared in its detention centers as dead in the records maintained by the state-run Civil Registry departments. The report stresses that the Syrian regime has harnessed several echelons of the Syrian state institutions which it controls to implement this procedure in violation of Syrian law, and to manipulate the data on the forcibly disappeared recorded at the Civil Registry. This blatantly illegal manipulation starts with the ministries of Interior and Justice, and extends to Civil Registry officials in all Syrian governorates. The regime’s officials have also signally failed to comply with the rules and procedures for registering those dying in detention centers.
From the beginning of 2018 up until April 2022, the report documents at least 1,056 cases in which the fate of individuals documented as forcibly disappeared, including nine children and two women, was revealed by Syrian regime officials registering their deaths at Civil Registry offices. The report adds that through use of this policy, the Syrian regime avoided providing any definitive clarification of the fate of the forcibly disappeared, meaning that the crime of enforced disappearance is still taking place. The report holds the Syrian regime responsible for revealing the fate of those whom it forcibly disappeared, and for informing the Syrian people of how they were killed, who killed them, and of the whereabouts of their remains, more especially since the Syrian regime has always denied their detention; based on all of these facts, these lists – published through the Civil Registry departments – constitute an indictment and solid evidence of the Syrian regime’s involvement in the killing of these people who we believe died as a result of torture, except for those cases of death due to death sentences issued by the Military Field Court, which constitute only a small percentage of the total, not more than 5%, as the report documents.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, Director of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, says:
“Although the Syrian regime has always denied that it has forcibly disappeared thousands of Syrians, the Civil Registry incidents reveal that dozens of these people have died, and the Syrian regime has not informed their families, or handed over their bodies, even though it may have been years since their death. There is hardly a regime worldwide similar to the Assad regime in its barbaric dealings with the people except for North Korea. The international community must help 86,792 forcibly disappeared Syrian citizens, for every delay means more deaths among the Syrian people.”
From the beginning of February until April 2022, the report records at least 54 persons from Deir al Asafeer whose families learned of their deaths by obtaining death statements from the Civil Registry departments; all of them had been arrested by Syrian regime forces, which denied any information about them, and thus had been classified as being among the forcibly disappeared. The report presents photocopies of death statements issued by the Civil Registry to the families of the forcibly disappeared. The death statements, which the report obtained copies of, showed that the same date of death had been recorded in 21 of these forcibly disappeared individuals’ cases, making SNHR believes that death sentences were issued against them by the Military Field Court.
The report also presents the results of a complex series of cross-checking processes of the 54 cases with data of 86,792 forcibly disappeared and 14,449 people who were killed under torture by the Syrian regime, according to the SNHR’s databases. The cross-checking processes showed that 36 persons from Deir al Asafeer, whose fate was recently revealed by the Syrian regime, were previously registered in the SNHR’s database of forcibly disappeared individuals, while 18 of these individuals are new cases that were not previously documented in the SNHR’s database. In addition, only five persons were previously registered by SNHR as having died due to torture, and therefore 49 of the new deaths were among the forcibly disappeared.
As the report notes, the end of March 2022 saw summonses being issued by the regime security services in Damascus Suburbs governorate for the families of the disappeared, for whom death statements were issued in February and March. On complying with these summonses, the families of the disappeared were interrogated and were warned against announcing their loved ones’ deaths, and threatened with being arrested or rearrested if they did so. The report further reveals that a number of families of the disappeared, who were summoned, remained for days under arrest before their release.
In a related context, the report stresses that these intimidating practices epitomize one of the main challenges SNHR faces in its documentation work, noting that these threats are a standard policy used by the Syrian regime, which aims to harass and persecute the families of the victims in order to deter them from reporting the violations they and their loved ones are exposed to. This, as the report adds, proves once again the fact that no Syrian citizen can feel safe from arrest since these are carried out without any basis in law or any oversight by any independent judiciary, and are perpetrated by the security services with no involvement by the judiciary. Following these arrests, detainees are routinely classified as forcibly disappeared persons.
The report stresses that the Syrian regime has undoubtedly committed a large number of violations through these acts, primarily the deliberate concealment of the fate of 85 percent of the detainees who it imprisons and tortures using the most barbaric, cruel and sadistic methods, leaving them to suffer to death, as well as subjecting the detainees’ families and wider society to trauma, humiliation and terror by depriving them of the most basic rights and fundamental human dignity by not informing them of the deaths of their loved ones, or by refraining from handing over their bodies and finally registering them as dead without the families’ knowledge. The report adds that the Syrian regime has weaponized the resources, wealth and institutions of the Syrian state as tools of persecution and war against anyone who dares to oppose it.
As the report further adds, the Syrian regime has also demonstrated a complete 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. The report adds that the regime has used the strategy of enforced disappearance to target anyone connected to the popular uprising that rose up against the regime’s decades-long brutal dynastic rule.
The report notes that the recent revelations of some of the forcibly-disappeared individuals’ fates were done in a deliberate and calculating manner, and that the implications of the synchronization between the state institutions in a way that serves this criminal policy are clear, as seen by the initial arrests targeting figures supporting the popular uprising, which were followed by their forcible disappearance and then by issuing death certificates for them without any information about the place and cause of their deaths. This also suggests that large numbers of regime employees, senior officials, and other personnel with state bodies were aware of this particular policy by the Syrian regime, as well as being aware of the true cause of death and the brutal acts of torture perpetrated. It is clear that some of these officials possess knowledge of the location of the dead bodies and the mass graves where these are disposed of, particularly given the appallingly large number of forcibly-disappeared persons and the number of cases of death by torture which was recorded estimated at nearly 14,000 deaths.
The report calls on the UN Security Council and the United Nations to hold an emergency meeting to discuss this critical matter that threatens the fates of nearly 86,000 individuals and terrorizes the whole of Syrian society, to take action under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations to protect the detainees from a certain death inside detention centers, to find a mechanism to compel the Syrian regime to end torture and enforced disappearances, and to take all necessary procedures to prevent the Syrian regime from persecuting and tampering with the living and the dead, with such crimes posing a major threat to the security and stability of the Syrian state.
The report also recommends that the UN Security Council should act to end torture and deaths due to torture inside Syrian regime detention centers and save whoever is left among the detainees as quickly as possible.
In addition, the report calls on the United Nations General Assembly to seize the initiative in the Syrian situation and to resort to invoking the principle of Uniting for Peace, given the total paralysis affecting the Security Council due to the Russian-Chinese veto.
The report also provides other additional recommendations…