The Syrian Regime Continues Its Policy of Enforced Disappearance, Terrorism and Torture
Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) states in its report released today that regime security forces in Suwayda are responsible for the abduction and enforced disappearance of the political activist Mohannad Shehab al Din.
The seven-page report notes that since the beginning of 2019, the Syrian regime has arrested nearly 1,478 individuals, 764 of whom has been forcibly disappeared, stressing that the Syrian regime has never complied with international humanitarian law, with Syrian security forces continuing to commit the most serious daily violations and acts of persecution in areas under the control of Syrian Regime forces, which are aimed at terrorizing civilians and suppressing any attempt by any civilian movement to resume demands for a change of the ruling family. All these crimes have coincided with the heavy shelling of areas outside the Syrian regime’s control in north-west Syria by Syrian-Russian alliance warplanes, which have deliberately targeted populated areas, medical facilitates and schools since the beginning of this campaign of military escalation against the fourth de-escalation on April 26. The report documents that Syrian-Russian alliance forces killed at least 487 civilians, including 118 children and 92 women (adult female), and injured 1,495 civilians since the beginning of this campaign of military escalation up to June 23, 2019.
According to the report, Syrian regime forces have arrested 1,478 Syrian citizens, including 71 children and 90 women (adult female). After interrogation and torture, 325 of these individuals were released, while 1,153 are still detained by the Syrian regime, with 764 of this latter number now classified as forcibly disappeared, and the Syrian regime denying any knowledge of their detention or whereabouts.
The report reveals that most of these arrests occurred in the governorates of Damascus, Damascus Suburbs and Aleppo, with extensive arrests in the areas that were forced to accept settlements with the Syrian regime such as the Eastern Ghouta, the northern suburbs of Homs, and southern Syria, adding that among those arrested were IDPs who returned to these areas after being displaced from them previously, in addition to a large number of arrests taking place at border crossing points of Syrian refugees who decided to return to Syria.
In this context, the report notes that since the start of the popular uprising for democracy in March 2011, Syrian Regime forces have adopted an arrest tactic which is in reality abduction of civilians without warning. During these arrests, the security forces do not announce which security branch they are affiliated with or provide any information regarding where they are taking their victims, thereby deliberately spreading the greatest amount of terror and panic.
The report includes a detailed account of the arrest of activist Mohannad Shehab al Din from Suwayda governorate, an area which has seen a sharp escalation in incidents of kidnapping since the beginning of 2018, with the report documenting some 208 abductions of citizens in the governorate since then, noting that Syrian regime security forces were involved in most of these abductions with the objective of undermining stability in the region in an attempt to expand the regime’s strength and regain full control over the governorate.
The report details that Mohannad Shehab al Din, born in 1973, a peaceful political activist from Suwayda city, is a married father of four who works as a carpenter and cabinet maker in Suwayda city. He was kidnapped by gunmen who, the report states, most probably belong to the Syrian regime’s military security forces on June 16, 2019, at his workplace in the west of Suwayda city. His fate remains unknown up to the time of the preparation of this report.
The report stresses that the Syrian regime has violated many principles of international human rights law through the abduction of Syrian citizens without trial and the policy of enforced disappearance and torture. The Syrian regime has systematically and extensively practiced these violations since 2011. In accordance with Article 7 of the Rome Statute, these violations constitute crimes against humanity if they are knowingly and widely practiced.
While the report focuses specifically on the case of activist Mohannad Shehab al Din, this is one of hundreds of thousands of such cases in which the Syrian regime violates the Syrian Constitution itself. Since 2011, the Syrian regime has detained at least 1.2 million Syrian citizens who have been subjected to detention without being issued with any arrest warrant or being charged, in addition to being forbidden to appoint a lawyer or to receive family visits. Nearly 128,000 Syrian citizens are still detained by the Syrian regime, almost 82,000 of whom have been forcibly disappeared. Their families are not informed of their whereabouts, and if family members make enquiries about their loved ones, the regime’s security branches and authorities deny any knowledge of their loved ones’ whereabouts, and those enquiring may be at risk of arrest for doing so.
The report further confirms that Syrian Regime forces have used the strategy of enforced disappearance to target anyone involved in the popular uprising against the Assad family’s hereditary dictatorship. Analysis of the available data, according to the report, shows the spread of this phenomenon in many areas, which indicates that it is a consistent and calculated policy and methodology, which amounts to a crime against humanity. The ruling state authority under President Bashar al Assad has also violated several provisions of the current Syrian Constitution, which criminalize arbitrary detention, torture and enforced disappearance, all of which are flagrant violations of both international law and domestic law.
The report calls on the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on the Syrian regime, starting with arms embargoes and diplomatic boycotts, and escalating to military sanctions in the event of the regime continuing to commit grave violations, and emphasizes the urgent need for the Security Council to resort to Chapter VII of the UN Charter to protect detainees from death in detention centers and put an end to the epidemic of enforced disappearance prevalent in Syria as this threatens the security and stability of society.
The report recommends that the Security Council continues to implement and compel the Syrian regime and other parties to abide by the resolutions it has issued, most notably Resolution number 2042 and Resolution number 2139, and that they demonstrate their compliance with these theoretical decisions through their actions.
The report further recommends that the General Assembly of the United Nations should take the lead in the Syrian situation and resort to invoking the principle of “Uniting for Peace”, given the total paralysis in the Security Council due to the Russian-Chinese veto.
The report calls on all UN relief agencies to search for families that have lost one or more of their breadwinners or children due to torture, to ensure that aid is delivered to these victims’ beneficiaries continuously, to initiate rehabilitation, to pressure the Syrian regime effectively to allow all detainees to communicate with their relatives and lawyers, and to ensure binding guarantees to prevent the recurrence of lethal torture in detention centers.
The report stresses that all states which are parties to the Convention against Torture must take the necessary measures to establish their jurisdiction over perpetrators of torture crimes and make all necessary material and security efforts to that end, to impose further sanctions and boycotts on the Syrian regime and its supporting countries, and to classify anyone who supports the Syrian regime as an accomplice involved in atrocities.
The report refers to the need to take serious punitive measures against the Syrian regime to deter it from continuing to disappear and kill Syrian citizens by torture, to provide more funds, support and grants to local organizations concerned with the care and rehabilitation of torture victims and their families, and to provide support to individual activists and local organizations that document violations without imposing tutelage or political guidance.
The report stresses the need for the Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI) to launch investigations into the case of the activist Mohannad Shehab al Din and other such cases documented by the SNHR.
The report calls on the Syrian regime to immediately allow access to detention centers by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry, the International Committee of the Red Cross and all relevant human rights organizations, to ensure the immediate and unconditional release of all arbitrarily arrested detainees, particularly children and women, to reveal the fate of tens of thousands of forcibly disappeared persons, and to stop violating several articles of the Syrian Constitution.
The report also stresses the need for the UN Human Rights Council to follow up on the issue of detainees and forcibly disappeared persons in Syria, to highlight this issue in all annual meetings, and to allocate a special session to discussion of this terrible threat.
Furthermore, the report calls on the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a special and detailed report highlighting the disaster of detention and forced disappearance in Syria with all its psychological, social and economic dimensions, and to support local human rights organizations.
The report also recommends that the Special Group on Enforced Disappearances to increase the number of persons working on the issue of enforced disappearances in the Office of the Special Group on Enforced Disappearances in Syria due to the intensity and magnitude of cases of enforced disappearances.