No fewer than 95,056 individuals have been documented as being still forcibly disappeared at the hands of the parties to the conflict in Syria between March 2011 and August 2018, SNHR noted in a report released today that sheds light on the most notable cases of arbitrary arrest and enforced disappearance in the country
The report contains 39 portraits of notable figures in the popular uprising for democracy who have been arrested or forcibly disappeared at the hands of the different parties to the conflict, with the majority of these individuals having fallen prey to the Syrian regime’s apparatus of enforced disappearance. These portraits will be showcased in a number of exhibitions around the world.
The report uses the medium of art to emphasize the issue of detainees and forcibly disappeared persons as a reminder of their suffering in a significantly different approach from the group’s activities in the past eight years which have focused on releasing reports, studies, and figures.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, the chairman of SNHR, explains:
“We always try to revitalize and shed light on the issue of detainees. We are hoping that we can increase the number of portraits to 100. This is just a first step. Our aim is to mobilize popular and political support and show the portraits in different states. Hopefully, we can also involve the governments of these states to uphold their responsibilities and gain their support in order to keep the issue of detainees relevant as a step towards revealing their fate and setting them free.”
The Syrian regime, the report notes, was the first of the parties to the conflict to carry out these practices in a systematic fashion against the various segments of Syrian society. The regime has adopted mafia-like methods, making most arrests without any warrant or judicial authorization while the victims are passing through a checkpoint or during raids. From the very first moment of arrest, the detainee is subjected to torture and denied any chance to contact his or her family or attorney. In addition, authorities routinely deny even having made any arrest; as a result, most detainees, up to 85 percent, are categorized as forcibly disappeared cases. These practices are part of a calculating and deliberate central policy of the Syrian regime.
The report adds that the Syrian regime denies that any incidences of torture or deaths by torture take place in its detention centers, even though it has issued hundreds of death certificates for forcibly disappeared former detainees in these prisons. These death certificates invariably state that the cause of death was either a myocardial infraction (heart attack) or an abrupt cessation of breathing without providing the deceased prisoners’ families with any additional information on the circumstances of the death of their forcibly disappeared family members. The families receive no medical report and are usually denied even the chance to see their loved ones’ bodies or to obtain any information about their resting place.
The report stresses that the Syrian regime has violated the Syrian Constitution of 2012, particularly Article 53, Paragraph 2, in addition to Article 391 of the Syrian Penal Code.
Even though those laws, which prohibit torture and order the punishment of perpetrators, have been unequivocally enacted, the continuing implementation of Article 16 of Law 14 of 1969 grants security authorities and affiliated bodies impunity for crimes they perpetrate, stating that those responsible can’t be prosecuted without the permission of their commanding officer. Thanks to this impunity, no guilty verdict has ever been returned against any individuals affiliated with regime security authorities for perpetrating torture in the history of the Syrian judiciary. This Article constitutes a blatant violation of all the international and national instruments, as well as the Convention against Torture to which the Syrian government has acceded.
In addition, the report stresses that the Syrian regime has demonstrated a lack of commitment to the international agreements and treaties it has ratified, in particular the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights. Enforced disappearance is a strategy used by the regime to target anyone connected to the popular uprising that rose against the Assad family’s dynastic rule. This phenomenon is prevalent in areas that were well-known for joining the uprising, which suggests that this strategy is based on a consistent and deliberate policy, including the regime’s recent revelations concerning the fate of some of the forcibly disappeared individuals, which was also done in a deliberate manner. The implications of the coordination between state institutions in a way that serves these criminal actions are clear in light of the arrests specifically targeting figures who supported the popular uprising, with their subsequent forced disappearances being followed by the issuing of death certificates containing no information about the place or cause of their deaths.
The report adds that enforced-disappearance is prohibited by the customary international humanitarian law (Rule 98 and Rule 117), and by the criminal international law (Article 7-1-i).
The report calls on the Security Council to hold an emergency meeting to discuss this critical issue that threatens the fates of nearly 82,000 individuals and terrorizes the whole of Syrian society, to find methods and mechanisms to prevent the Syrian regime from tampering with the living and the dead, to act to stop torture and deaths due to torture inside Syrian regime detention centers, to save the surviving detainees as quickly as possible, and to take action under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations to protect the detainees from certain death inside detention centers.
Moreover, the report calls on the OHCHR to issue a statement condemning and addressing this blatant violation of the most basic standards of human dignity, and to release an extensive report on this barbaric phenomenon and clearly condemn it.
In addition, the report calls on the Commission of Inquiry to start investigating this critical issue. SNHR is willing to provide all additional information and data
Lastly, the report calls on the Syrian regime to stop terrorizing the Syrian people through enforced disappearance, torture, and death due to torture, as well as to stop tampering with and exploiting civil records in service of the goals of the ruling family, and to take responsibility for all legal and material consequences of its actions and compensate the victims and their families from the resources of the Syrian state.