Today, 30 August, marks International Day of the Disappeared – a day to shine a light on the scores of enforced disappearances happening all around the world.
Every day, people seemingly vanish from their homes and streets. They are arrested, detained or abducted against their will, or otherwise deprived of their liberty. State officials (or someone acting with state consent) will often grab them and then deny it, or refuse to say where they are.
It is a crime under international law, and it is having a truly devastating impact on the victims, their families and their communities.
Total impunity for those responsible
It happens everywhere; in Mexico, more than 26,000 people were reported missing or disappeared between 2006 and 2012 and in Sri Lanka, the missing toll since the 1980s is at 42,000 at least.
This year we are highlighting the plight of tens of thousands of people in Syria who have gone missing or been detained since the onset of the bloody crisis in 2011.
So far there has been total impunity for those responsible for these disappearances. This must come to an end. We are demanding that the the Syrian government and armed groups involved in the country’s conflict disclose the fate and whereabouts of these people now.
‘I never lose hope that they will return’
Fadwa Mahmoud’s husband Abdulaziz Al-Kheir and son Maher Tahan have been missing since September 2012, after being arrested by Air Force Intelligence at a checkpoint in Damascus, although the Syrian government denies this. She described the agony of not knowing the fate or whereabouts of her family:
‘The days pass by extremely heavily… I live on hope, which allows me to go on and pushes me to work hard for their release. I never lose hope that they will return. I always imagine that moment when I learn of their release.’
According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, 75,000 people have been subjected to enforced disappearance by the Syrian government since 2011.
While the overwhelming majority of those who have disappeared in Syria have vanished in a network of government detention centres, more than 2,000 individuals have gone missing after being detained by armed opposition groups and so-called Islamic State. Razan Zeitouneh, Wael Hamada, Samira Khalil and Nazem Hammadi, peaceful Syrian activists who worked at the Violations Documentation Center in Syria, an NGO that monitors human rights violations, were abducted by an armed opposition group from their office in December 2013. Their families have been denied any shred of information about the fate of their loved ones.
Consequences felt for generations
Russia and the United States, in particular, must use their influence to pressure respectively the Syrian government and armed opposition groups to grant independent monitors access to places of detention, disclose the names and whereabouts of those deprived of their freedom, and allow all detainees to communicate with their families.
Families and communities are being ripped apart as their desperate search for loved ones goes on amidst the brutality and bloodshed of the Syrian conflict. Philip Luther, our Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, described how this tragic situation has been largely ignored:
‘There has been total impunity for those responsible for disappearances in Syria. This issue must be addressed by the international community at every opportunity, including peace talks in Geneva and Astana, or else its consequences will be felt for generations and the prospects for healing and reconciliation will be undermined.’
Tonight we are hosting a sold out screening of ‘Syria’s Disappeared’, followed by a panel discussion with the film’s director Sara Afshar and the prominent Syrian human rights activist Mazen Darwish. Follow the event on Twitter using #SyriasDisappeared.