Enforced Disappearance Is the Regime’s Most Painful and Brutal Weapon
The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) states in its report released today on the International Day of Victims of Enforced Disappearance that the Syrian regime has used enforced disappearance as a strategic war weapon, pointing to the presence of at least 98,000 forcibly disappeared persons in Syria since March 2011.
The 35-page report reveals that enforced disappearance involves a horrific amount of other violations against the disappeared person, such as torture and denial of health care, being tried in secret courts without even the most fundamental principles of fair trial, or simply subjected to summary trial and death by torture or execution, adding that the relentless anxiety and suffering resulting from enforced disappearance is not coincidental, but a planned tactic used by the Syrian regime to undermine the popular uprising for democracy and to intimidate, terrorize and destroy society.
The report notes that International law prohibits the use of enforced disappearance under any circumstances, and states that emergency conditions such as conflicts and wars may not be invoked to allow its practice, noting that Article 7 of the Rome Statute, which describes enforced disappearance as a crime against humanity when committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack, with Article 5 of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance also stressing the same point. The report also notes that Article VII of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that no-one shall be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and Article 14 of the same Covenant criminalizes the coercion of any person to testify against himself or admit to an offense he has not committed. In addition, enforced disappearance violates a range of rights, and violates the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The report outlines the record of victims of enforced disappearance at the hands of the main parties since the beginning of the popular uprising for democracy in March 2011 up to August 2019, and focuses mainly on the violations documented by the SNHR team since August 30, 2018, up to August 30, 2019. The report relies on the definition of enforced disappearance in accordance with the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance adopted by the UN General Assembly in its resolution 47/133 of December 18, 1992, which states that “in the sense that persons are arrested, detained or abducted against their will or otherwise deprived of their liberty by officials of different branches or levels of Government, or by organized groups or private individuals acting on behalf of, or with the support, direct or indirect, consent or acquiescence of the Government, followed by a refusal to disclose the fate or whereabouts of the persons concerned or a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of their liberty, which places such persons outside the protection of the law.”. the report notes that in its methodology, the report classifies an individual as being within the enforced disappearance category after they have been detained for 20 days or more with their family unable to obtain any information about their detention or whereabouts from the official authorities and when the authorities which arrested him or her refuse to acknowledge that detention.
The report is based on interviews conducted by SNHR with the families of victims who were forcibly disappeared from different Syrian governorates, with these interviews carried out either by telephone, by various online communication programs or by visiting the family members in their homes inside and outside Syria, with the report providing 15 such personal accounts, all obtained directly with none obtained from open sources.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, Chairman of SNHR, says:
“Syrian society has suffered from many types of violations, some of which constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes, but the crime of enforced disappearance practiced by the Syrian regime for eight years is classified as the most powerful and sadistic weapon of war. The scale of the record of enforced disappearance compared to the population in Syria is horrific and devastating, constituting a crime against humanity committed by the ruling authorities, which millions of Syrians have suffered for years, and there is no hope of revealing the fate of these people without changing the ruling regime that caused their disappearance.”
The report reveals the regular periodic correspondence conducted by the SNHR team with the United Nations Group on Enforced Disappearances, noting that the SNHR received many official responses about the cases the SNHR submitted to them. The Rapporteur corresponds with the Syrian regime about all these sent cases, which are listed in the special annex on the report prepared by the United Nations Group on Enforced Disappearances in Syria. The report notes that the SNHR receives documents from the United Nations Group on Enforced Disappearances on a number of cases provided by the SNHR, with the Syrian regime asked to disclose and report on their fate.
The report notes that the SNHR has provided a form to report arrests and disappearances on its official website that families can fill out, with these reports then sent automatically to the SNHR 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 the victim’s families in order to submit as many cases as possible to the United Nations Group on Enforced Disappearances, noting that the SNHR team works 24/7 to build broad relationships with the families of the disappeared, to obtain as much data as possible which is stored within our database of enforced disappearances.
From March 2011 to August 2019, as the report notes, the SNHR team documented at least 144,889 individuals who are still detained or forcibly disappeared by the main parties in Syria. 128,417 individuals, including 3,507 children, and 7,852 women (adult female) are still detained or forcibly disappeared by the Syrian regime, while 10,721 individuals are still detained or forcibly disappeared by extremist Islamist groups, including 349 children and 461 women (adult female), of whom 8,715 individuals, including 326 children and 402 women, are in ISIS prisons, and 2,006 individuals, including 23 children and 59 women are in Hay’at Tahrir al Sham’s prisons. As the report further states, 2,844 more individuals, including 329 children and 846 women (adult female), are documented as being still detained or forcibly disappeared in prisons of faction of the Armed Opposition, while 2,907 individuals, including 631 children and 172 women, are still detained or forcibly disappeared at the hands of Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.
As the report states, at least 98,279 individuals have been forcibly disappeared between March 2011 and August 2019 by the main parties in Syria, with 83,574 of this number disappeared by Syrian Regime forces, including 1,722 children and 4,938 women (adult female), and an additional 10,594 including 326 children and 408 women (adult female) disappeared by extremist Islamist groups, 8,648 of whom were disappeared by ISIS, including 319 children and 386 women. Meanwhile HTS was responsible for disappearing at least 1,946, including seven children and 22 women (adult female). The report also notes that 2,234 individuals, including 222 children and 416 women, are still forcibly disappeared in prisons controlled by factions of the Armed Opposition, while 1,877 individuals, including 52 children and 78 women, are still forcibly disappeared in the prisons of the 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 numbers of the forcibly disappeared, followed by 2013. The report also outlines the distribution of the record of the forcibly disappeared by the main parties 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 stresses that enforced disappearance has been carried out as part of a widespread attack against all civilian population groups. The Syrian regime is by far the most prolific perpetrator of this crime, with other parties left far behind in terms of the number of enforced disappearances to such a degree that there is no serious comparison with any of the other parties engaged in the conflict. The Syrian regime, which has issued orders to its forces to carry out arrests and enforced disappearances, is fully aware of their effect, which constitutes a crime against humanity under Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. This crime is, therefore, not subject to the statute of limitations and the same article gives the victims’ families the right to reparation and to know the fate of the disappeared. 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 dealing with the popular uprising for democracy, overwhelmingly by the Syrian regime.
The report notes that the Syrian regime’s violations did not stop at the crimes of arrest, torture and enforced disappearance, but even exceeded this in their callousness, when in early 2018, civil registry departments in all Syrian governorates began to publish lists of forcibly disappeared persons registered as deceased without providing their families with any prior official or legal notification of their deaths and giving them no information about their loved ones’ deaths other than the date and time of death. Many had died years before without their families being notified of their deaths. As the report states, of the nearly 83,000 documented cases of enforced disappearance carried out by the Syrian regime, the SNHR team documented 931 cases where the Syrian regime revealed the fate of the disappeared, all of whom had died in detention, including nine who were children at the time of their arrest, with none of the families even receiving their deceased relatives’ bodies for burial or knowing.
The report stresses that the Syrian regime has demonstrated a complete lack of any 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 without any arrest warrants or any charges. The Syrian regime has also denied those detainees the right to an attorney and barred their families from visiting them, with 65% of all detainees having become enforced-disappearance cases as the Syrian regime never informed their families of their whereabouts. In cases where families have tried to inquire about the whereabouts of their oved ones, even asking questions might put the families at risk of being arrested themselves. The report notes that enforced disappearance is prohibited according to the customary international humanitarian law and the international criminal law. The report further notes that the rest of parties have also practiced the crime of enforced disappearance, although not with the same centrality, which characterizes the Syrian regime’s use of this strategy, which differs in the quantity and distribution of cases.
The report calls on the Security Council to hold an emergency meeting to discuss this critical matter that threatens the fates of nearly 98,000 individuals and terrorizes the whole of Syrian society. In addition, the report stresses the vital need for the Security Council to act to stop torture and deaths due to torture inside Syrian regime detention centers, and save whoever detainees are left as quickly as possible, stressing the need to take action under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations to protect the detainees from certain death inside detention centers.
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 groups in Syria.
The report stresses the importance of the Human Rights Council following up on the issue of the detainees and forcibly disappeared in Syria, shedding light on it at all periodic annual meetings, and dedicating a special session to addressing this horrifying threat.
The report recommends that the Special Rapporteur on Enforced Disappearance should increase the manpower dealing with enforced disappearances at the office of the Special Rapporteur on Enforced Disappearance in Syria in light of the notable and sizeable number of cases of enforced disappearances in the country.
Lastly, the report demands that the Syrian regime stop terrorizing the Syrian people through enforced disappearance, torture, and death due to torture, as well as tampering with and exploiting civil records to serve the goals of the ruling family, take full responsibility for all legal and material costs, and compensate the victims and their families from the resources of the Syrian state.