Mass Abductions in Syria

6 November 2015, 16:03 UTC | Syria
Samar, wife of Fa'eq al-Mir who is a long-term political activist © Amnesty International

In just four years, tens of thousands of men, women and children have vanished at the hands of the government. Where are they?

Thousands have died in filthy prisons around the country – a result of torture, disease and horrific conditions. Countless others are crammed into cells, including children as young as two.

Families search frantically for any information about their loved ones. They want to know why their son was taken, where their daughter is being held, if their brother is being tortured, whether their father is alive.

Someone knows the answer.

President Assad, show us where they are. Let independent, international monitors into the country to visit all places where people are being held.

Families have a right to know: their loved ones are missing and they’re missed.

"I am always wondering, did he get enough to eat today? Is he hurt? But then maybe none of this matters. Maybe he is dead."

Mother whose son disappeared in 2011

Torture and death: welcome to Syria’s cells

“One of the worst methods of torture I saw was the ‘German chair’. The person is tied to the chair and then the back is pushed backwards. Some people just broke into two. Their spines couldn’t take the pressure.”

Raneem Ma’touq is describing her time in detention last year. The 24-year-old fine arts student was snatched by the Syrian authorities in February 2014. For two months, her family had no idea if she was even alive.

"Some people just broke into two. Their spines couldn’t take the pressure."

Raneem Ma'touq

Salaheddin al-Tabbaa, a 22-year-old dentistry student from Damascus, died of a heart attack in detention earlier this year. At least that was what his loved ones were told by officials, after months of desperate – and fruitless – enquiries. But they find it hard to believe. “Salah never had any heart problems. He played basketball and made an effort to keep fit.”

Salaheddin had been stopped by officials and taken from the taxi he was in, in September 2014. In July his family was told he’d been buried in a mass grave.

"It’s too hard for us to believe he is not coming back."

Friend of Salaheddin

Fine Arts student Raneem (left), who disappeared for two months in 2014. Dentistry student Salaheddin (right), who vanished in 2014 © Private

We are people like you. Why do you do nothing?

We know this is happening in one of the bloodiest dictatorships of our time. And yet, while rightly appalled by Islamic State’s atrocities, we turn a blind eye to the Syrian government’s crimes against humanity. The UN Security Council has failed to take concrete steps to end the suffering.

“Where is the international community? They know our loved ones are being taken from us, and they do nothing. You are free, and you understand what it is to be free. We are people, we are like you, and this is happening to us. Why do you do nothing?” These are the words of Hakim, whose brother Turke disappeared in 2013.

It’s time to stop ignoring this crisis. President Assad, show us where they are. 

Lack of international action - New Zealand must urgently mobilise

New Zealand in its role on the UN Security Council must urge an immediate end to disturbing crimes against humanity.

While some states and the UN have condemned enforced disappearances, much more is needed than words of censure. More than a year and a half ago, in February 2014, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2139, which calls for an end to enforced disappearances in Syria, but it has yet to take further steps to ensure it is implemented. 

As an elected member of the UN Security Council, New Zealand has a key role to play in highlighting these crimes against humanity and mobilising the Council to act.

The Council must make strong demands for the prompt and unfettered access to Syria by the International Commission of Inquiry, humanitarian and human rights organisations and international journalists.

“Words which are not followed up by concrete action will not help the victims of enforced disappearances. The UN Security Council must urgently refer the situation in Syria to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and impose targeted sanctions, including asset freezes, to pressure the authorities to end enforced disappearances."

Philip Luther, Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Director

“States supporting the government of Syria, including Iran and Russia, which has recently begun military operations in Syria, cannot wash their hands of the mass crimes against humanity and war crimes being committed with their backing. Russia, whose patronage is essential for President Bashar al-Assad’s government, is in a unique position to convince the government to end this cruel and cowardly campaign of disappearances.” 

Read our report - Between prison and the grave: Enforced disappearances in Syria - here

Take action to end enforced disappearences in Syria.

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