Syrian family groups have urged UN member states to take immediate action to establish an institution to reveal the fate and whereabouts of forcibly disappeared and missing persons in Syria, ahead of an interactive dialogue, which will be held by the UN General Assembly, on 28 March.
In an open letter, 10 survivor and victims’ family associations who form the Truth and Justice Charter Group call on member states to demonstrate their full support for the creation of a victim-centered international body that will consolidate their demands, gather data, search for those forcibly disappeared, and locate and identify the remains of those who are no longer alive.
Their call is backed by at least 90 family and survivor groups, NGOs and civil society activists from across the world in a global demonstration of solidarity for the Syrian cause.
This follows a report by the UN Secretary-General in August 2022 which recommends the creation of such an institution to help families to find out the fate of their loved ones.
According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), more than 100,000 people have been arrested or abducted and have gone missing in Syria since 2011, the vast majority forcibly disappeared at the hands of the Syrian regime. The real figure is likely to be much higher. The devastating earthquake on 6 February has also contributed to the loss of evidence and testimonies that could have played an essential role in saving detainees and forcibly disappeared persons who are still alive.
Fadwa Mahmoud a former detainee, wife and mother of the forcibly disappeared Abdul Aziz Al-Khair and Maher al-Taha, co-founder of Families for Freedom movement, which is part of the Truth and Justice Charter, said:
“For 12 years Assad’s regime has used mass arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance systematically as a tool to crush dissent and instill a climate fear among Syrians. We have been waiting years to understand what’s happened to our disappeared loved ones, at the very least we deserve answers. We need to know if they are dead or alive, or where they are buried. Setting up this institution could help to bring relief to thousands of Syrians who have been living in limbo and uncertainty for years. We urge the UN Member States to act now to highlight the regime’s ruthless track record of detention and enforced disappearance. Drafting a resolution to establish this international body would be the first concrete step towards truth and justice for Syria’s disappeared.”
Mariam al-Hallak, co-founder of the Caesar Families Association, which is also part of the Truth and Justice Charter, whose son Ayham Ghazoul was forcibly disappeared and killed under torture in 2012, after protesting against the Assad regime said:
“Anyone who has lost a child will tell you it’s one of the most heart-wrenchingly painful experiences you can go through. I waited years to know what happened to Ayham. I couldn’t grieve as a mother and we couldn’t grieve as a family. Having an international body that can provide answers means families will not have the same agonizing experience that I have been forced to live through.”
A number of prominent activists and civil society groups from across Latin America and the Arab world have also voiced their support for an international body for Syria’s disappeared. These include 80 Mexican organizations who are urging the Mexican government and representatives in New York to back the mechanism.
María Adela Antokoletz from the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a leading family association that has been campaigning for decades for truth and justice for Argentina’s disappeared expressed the organization’s “resolute support” for the creation of an international institution “to promote the humanitarian and forensic investigation of disappeared Syrians.”
Ahmed Borhaneddine Otsmane, from the Algerian family group for the disappeared, SOS Disparus the Algerian section of the Collectif des familles de disparus en Algérie (CFDA) whose father was forcibly disappeared in Algeria when he was just four years old and is still fighting to obtain answers from the authorities who remain in power today said:
“To Syrian families I say, we are with you. I know what you are going through, I feel for you. An international mechanism is important and should set an example. It gives us hope that we can openly address the crime of enforced disappearance, to name, shame and blame so that it is never repeated.”
The 10 families and survivors associations forming the Truth for Justice Charter are: the Association of Detained and Missing Persons in Sednaya Prison, Caesar Families Association, Coalition of Families of Persons Kidnapped by ISIS (Massar), Families for Freedom, the Ta’afi Initiative, Families for Truth and Justice, Adraa Detainees Association, Hevdestî – Synergy, Release-me, General Union of Detainees.
Notes to Editors
- The Syria Campaign are a human rights advocacy group supporting Syria’s heroes in the struggle for freedom and democracy.
- The Truth and Justice Charter was established in February 2021 by five association which later became ten : the Association of Detainees and Missing Persons in Sednaya Prison; Synergy Association for Victims; Caesar Families Association; General Union of Detainees; Coalition of Families of Persons Kidnapped by ISIS (Massar); Release Me; Families for Freedom; Ta’afi Initiative; Families of the Missing for Truth and Justice; Adra Detainees Association.
- For more information see Impunity Watch report “Humans Not Numbers: The Case for an International Mechanism to Address the Detainees and Disappeared Crisis in Syria“.
- The landmark UN Secretary-General report released in August 2022
- To access the open letter see here.