Paris – Statement by the Syrian Network for Human Rights:
On Friday, October 22, 2021, the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) held an online event entitled ‘Advancing the Cause of Detainees and Forcibly Disappeared Persons Is Our Collective Responsibility’ in cooperation and coordination with the founders of the Truth and Justice Charter, with the participation of Ms. Fadwa Mahmoud, co-founder of the Families for Freedom movement, Ms. Maryam al Hallaq, Chairwoman of the Caesar Families Association, Mr. Ahmad Helmi, one of the founders of the Ta’afi Initiative, Mr. Diab Serriya, from the Association of Detainees and the Missing in Sednaya Prison, Mr. Khalil al Haj Saleh, from the Massar organization (Coalition of Families of Persons Kidnapped by ISIS), and Mr. Fadel Abdul Ghany, Director of the Syrian Network for Human Rights.
The session, which was moderated by Ms. Amina Khoulani, a human rights activist and representative of the Families for Freedom movement, was broadcast on Zoom and social media platforms.
Ms. Amina Khoulani opened the session by talking about the centrality of the issue of arrest in Syria, especially since arrests and torture are still continuing on a daily basis. In regard to this phenomenon, she talked about the launch of the ‘Truth and Justice Charter’ by a group of victims’ associations, saying: “The charter constitutes a common umbrella for victims’ organizations and their families, and is considered a road map that advances our vision and demands regarding the issue of detainees. It is also intended to be a reference and strategic vision available to all stakeholders, human rights organizations, policymakers and actor decision-makers involved in this issue.”
Ms. Khoulani then gave the floor to Mr. Diab Serriya, who referred to the issue of financial blackmail, to which the families of detainees are subjected in order to obtain information about their loved ones. Mr. Serriya said: “We were shocked by the huge amount of money that these organized networks earn, including security men, army officers, shabiha, militias and their collaborators. There are lawyers and judges who are also involved in the blackmail of victims’ families, who were only seeking information which is a legitimate right for them.”
In her address during the event, Ms. Fadwa Mahmoud indicated that arrest has been a standard practice of Syria’s repressive regime for decades, and spoke about her experience, saying: “I was arrested during the reign of Hafez al Assad and kept away from my children for two years; my son Maher was then seven years old, and he is now detained. I always say that I fear that my grandchildren will also be arrested in the future, and that is why we are working to end this system and this tyranny.”
Ms. Mahmoud added that families have a right to know the truth and obtain information about their missing children. She concluded: “Sometimes I feel tired and frustrated, and I cry, as is the case with the rest of the Syrians, but I must continue to work, because our children desperately need us, and they desperately need a voice to say, “These are the ones who deserve life, not authoritarian regimes.”
The next speaker, Mr. Ahmad Helmi, described the state of frustration as a form of luxury, which currently has no place among Syrians, saying: “We cannot lose hope and surrender to the disappearance of our detained sons in secret prisons. We cannot say that the detainees and the missing in prisons and detention centers, who were killed under torture, are gone! We cannot say it’s over! We cannot say we can’t move forward!”
He added: “We must call out with the loudest voice and put pressure on a daily and continuous basis on every party involved in decision-making.” Finally, he stressed: “The issue of detainees and revealing their fate is the first priority, and it is possible to work on it regardless of the political file and progress in the negotiations, and for this we presented a solution to the international community; we want to establish an independent international mechanism that works to reveal the fate of the forcibly disappeared persons in Syria, to begin its work today, and to access all detention centers.”