Human Rights |

HRW urges probes into fate of missing ISIS captives



Kurdish Peshmerga forces help Yazidis in the Iraqi village of al-Humeira on April 8th, 2015 after ISIS freed more than 200 Yazidis it held captive for months. [Marwan Ibrahim/AFP]

Human Rights Watch on Tuesday (February 11th) called for the Syrian regime and Kurdish authorities in north-eastern Syria to investigate the fate of thousands of people who went missing in the custody of the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS).

More than 8,000 people detained by ISIS when it controlled swathes of the north and east remain unaccounted for, HRW said, citing figures from the Syrian Network for Human Rights.

HRW said the Syrian regime and the Kurdish authorities who now control former ISIS territory have so far failed to prioritise the search for the truth about what happened to the missing.

Kurdish authorities in the north-east "rarely" provide answers to those in search of their relatives, HRW said.

"People whose relatives had been in areas now under the control of Syrian [regime] forces similarly said they received only speculation that ISIS killed all its captives, or blanket denials of any knowledge," the report said.

'Opportunity to deliver answers'

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an Arab-Kurd alliance backed by the international coalition, overran the last pocket of Syrian territory held by ISIS in the Deir Ezzor village of al-Baghouz last March.

"The end of the territorial control of ISIS provides an opportunity to deliver answers to families whose relatives went missing in Syria," said HRW deputy regional director Joe Stork.

The rights group said the Kurdish authorities should create a "centralised focal point or civilian body" to collect information about the missing and reach out to their families.

They also should dedicate resources to protecting the mass graves believed to contain the bodies of thousands of people executed by ISIS, it added.

Dozens of such mass graves have been found in Iraq and Syria but the identification process is slow, costly and complicated.

The Kurdish administration lacks the official status to appeal for international aid and its own resources are hard pressed coping with the aftermath of ISIS's territorial defeat and mounting pressure from Turkey.

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