Syria: UN urges information on disappeared

The UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic on Nov. 28 stressed the need for greater information and accountability to be provided to the families of missing persons and detainees. The report begins by noting that the Syrian government is still carrying out mass public arrests and detentions. These detentions have led to the torture and eventual death of a number of individuals, while their families were induced to pay bribes to learn their whereabouts. The report goes on to say that many families did not learn of their relatives’ whereabouts at all until May 2018 when information was provided in bulk by the Ministry of Interior. The Commission notes that even after this information was disclosed it was obfuscated, with causes of death being listed as “heart attack” or “stroke”—while many individuals died on the same day. The Commission infers that mass executions may have occurred in some of these facilities, particularly as so many of them are on military bases.

After stating their observations, the report lays out a number of duties and recommendations for the Syrian government. It states first that the Syrian government has a custodial duty to anyone detained in its care, both for the individual’s human rights and the rights of their family members. The Commission recommends that the Syrian Government take six steps to begin to rectify these harms:

  1. Halt all capital punishment, particularly in military or field courts.
  2. Release information on any missing, detained, or deceased persons and allow access of both families and humanitarian organizations to those still in detention.
  3. Allow families to retrieve the remains of the deceased.
  4. Halt criminal fines for the filing of late death certificates.
  5. Conduct transparent investigations including medical reports of all custodial deaths.
  6. Establish a nation-wide mechanism for individuals to seek reparations for custodial harms and deaths.

The Commission briefed the UN Security Council on the report upon its release.

From Jurist, Nov. 29. Used with permission.

Note: The Assad regime is now credibly accused of genocide, with a mass extermination of detainees amply documented. Al Jazeera on Dec. 8 ran a piece recalling one of the most early and notorious cases, that of the Douma Four, a group of young opposition activists who were disappeared in December 2013. An Islamist faction may have been reponsible in that case. Syria’s besieged civil resistance is facing terror from both the regime and the jihadist armed factions. Nov. 23 saw the killing by unknown gunmen of opposition activist and radio producer Raed Fares in the town of Kafranbel, in opposition-held Idlib governorate. His community station, Radio Fresh, had continued to broadcast in defiance of threats from militants linked to the Nusra Front. Fellow activist and journalist Hammoud al-Juneid was also killed in the attack.

Photo of hunger strikers at Syrian prison via Foreign Policy. Credit: Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images