Iraq News
Crime & Justice

UN demands accountability over Syria mass disappearances

By Al-Mashareq and AFP

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Syrian refugee Wafa Moustafa holds the picture of her father on July 2, 2020, who has been forcibly disappeared since 2013. [Families for Freedom]

GENEVA -- The United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council on Tuesday (July 13) called for those behind "massive scale" enforced disappearances in Syria over the past decade of conflict to be held accountable.

Council members adopted a draft resolution that expressed regret that Syria's crisis had entered a second decade "marked by consistent patterns of gross violations".

Presented by the United Kingdom on behalf of France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Qatar, Turkey and the United States, the resolution is focused on missing people, including those subject to enforced disappearance.

The text of the resolution "strongly condemns the continued use of involuntary or enforced disappearances in the Syrian Arab Republic, and related human rights violations and abuses".

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A Syrian prisoner released from a regime jail is surrounded by opposition fighters upon his arrival at al-Eis crossing point south of Aleppo on July 19, 2018. [Omar Haj Kadour/AFP]

Enforced disappearances have been carried out "with consistency, in particular by the Syrian regime", it said.

While it also criticised enforced disappearances by other parties to the conflict, including the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS), the resolution noted that the Syrian regime was the main perpetrator.

It drew on the work of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, which has a mandate from the UN Human Rights Council to investigate and record all violations of international law in Syria.

The panel issued an extensive report in March, based on 2,658 testimonies conducted over 10 years that were carried out during investigations into more than 100 detention facilities.

It found that almost every major party that has controlled territory in Syria since 2011, including Tahrir al-Sham, has committed detention-related violations and abuses.

"There are no clean hands," it said in a video presentation of its findings, while noting that the Syrian regime has arbitrarily detained "far more than the others".

Disappearance on a massive scale

"Tens of thousands of people who were detained remain disappeared," Paulo Pinheiro, chairman of the Commission of Inquiry, told the 47th Session of the UN Human Rights Council.

"The [Syrian] government on a massive scale, but also other parties on a smaller scale, are deliberately prolonging the suffering of hundreds of thousands of family members by withholding information," he said.

"We urge the government of Syria, and all other parties subjecting individuals to disappearances, to take urgent steps to reveal their fate," he said.

"Member states involved in the conflict must also increase efforts to convince the parties they support to share information about the missing."

Commission member Karen Koning AbuZayd reiterated "in the strongest terms that more must be done to free the arbitrarily detained, and to locate and identify the missing".

"Leaving hundreds of thousands of families in anguish is inhuman and degrading," she said. "Releasing information on their whereabouts and well-being, or the location of their mortal remains, if they have died, would show basic respect for the inherent dignity of the families."

"This is an issue that affects all Syrians, and it should be prioritised as a fundamental humanitarian imperative," she added.

'Deliberate act of unspeakable cruelty'

Presenting the resolution to the UN Human Rights Council, British Ambassador Simon Manley slammed the Syrian regime's role in such a massive number of disappearances as "simply inexcusable".

The regime of Bashar al-Assad "has the bureaucratic means to provide information on these disappeared individuals, the means to end the suffering of the families and loved ones of these people", he said.

"But it chooses not to employ those means. This is a deliberate act of unspeakable cruelty."

"This resolution highlights the scale of this issue, and the impact not only on the victims, but on their loved ones, who have had to endure so many years of not knowing the fate of those who have disappeared," he said.

"It also highlights the vital work of Syrian victim, family and survivor organisations, including the pressing need for urgent access to this information, and encourages the international community to co-ordinate further efforts on this issue."

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