Human rights groups working inside Syria estimate that between 28,000 to 80,000 Syrians have been forcibly disappeared by the Assad regime over the past 19 months. This comes as Avaaz today releases testimony from family members who have had husbands, sons and daughters forcibly disappeared by the regime.
This practice continues. Here are three recent cases reported to Avaaz by family members of those disappeared:
Roula*, a woman from Homs, was snatched by security forces while out buying groceries in September 2012.
Mohammad Abdulrahman*, a peaceful Homs activist, was dragged out of his home in front of his wife and young children in September 2012.
Abu Yaser*, a farmer, was taken at a military checkpoint in August 2012 on his way to buy heating fuel.
Alice Jay, Campaign Director at Avaaz, said: “Syrians are being plucked off the street by Syrian security forces and paramilitaries and being ‘disappeared’ into torture cells. Whether it is women buying groceries or farmers going for fuel, nobody is safe. This is a deliberate strategy to terrorise families and communities — the panic of not knowing whether your husband or child is alive breeds such fear that it silences dissent. The fate of each and every one of these people must be investigated and the perpetrators punished.”
Renowned human rights lawyers and research groups in Syria have given a range of estimates on the total number of forced disappearances since the uprising began in March 2011.
Fadel Abdulghani from the Syrian Network for Human Rights which has been monitoring the death-toll inside Syria since the protests began, estimates at least 28,000 people have disappeared and 18,000 names have been provided to them from their network on the ground. They state that they have information about, but no names for 10,000 more cases, as the families have been too afraid to share them.
Muhannad al Hasani, chair of the Syrian human rights organisation “Sawasya”, winner of the Martin Ennals Award, and a member of the International Committee of Jurists said: “According to information given to us by our contacts in villages across Syria, we think there could be as many as 80,000 forcibly disappeared people. People are being snatched at night, on the street and when no-one is looking.”
Muhammad Khalil, a human rights lawyer from Hassaka, said: “While there is no precise figure, thousands of people have disappeared since March last year. The regime is doing this for two reasons; to directly get rid of the rebels and activists, and to intimidate the society so that it won’t oppose the regime.”
Avaaz has spoken to numerous friends and relatives of people who have been forcibly disappeared and will be handing over these cases to the UN Human Rights Council who have a mandate to investigate these abuses.
Amer Abdullah, 32, is from Sinjar near the city of Ma’arat al Numan in the province of Idlib. His brother Hisham told Avaaz: “My brother was just a farmer before the beginning of the revolution. With the beginning of the demonstrations in our area, the security forces stifled us, denying access to basic supplies that we cannot live without, specifically oil fuel that we use for heating. My brother contributed to bringing fuel oil from several fuel stations to be distributed to the residents. On February 18, 2012, and while heading to a fuel station to bring fuel oil, he passed on a military checkpoint in the area of Wadi al Daif, east to the city of Ma’arat al Numan, and was arrested there. Since then, we do not know anything about him except for new from recently released detainees. We last heard about him 3 months ago, we were told that he was in the prison of Mazzeh, physically weak and that he lost a lot of weight. We still don’t know in which security branch he is being held. We did not dare to go and ask about him for fear of being arrested.”
Anas al Shaghri, is 23, and a non violent protester who was disappeared in a rural area of Banyas shortly after the protests in the town began. His sister said: “On the 14th of May, 2011, my brother was arrested and handed over after midnight by someone he trusted. He was supposed to meet him to change his place of hiding. When we contacted this person he told us: ‘Yes, I handed Anas over myself.’ Since then we have not heard any news from my brother, except for some information that he was in Branch 291 State Security in Damascus. We heard that through one of the recently released detainees. He also told us that Anas was in solitary confinement and was subjected to severe torture. This left me in a state of fear and horror over my brother to the point where I cried every day just imagining what could have happened to him. Every time we ask about Anas they deny that he was detained in one of their security branches. We hired a lawyer for this matter but to no avail. What made Anas’ case unique is that he was one of the first to call for peaceful demonstrations in Banyas. He used his friendships and his strong charismatic personality to incite demonstrations. Anas was also one of the most active media spokesmen in the city of Banyas, he was in constant contact with various news outlets; this made the security forces and “Shabiha” more resentful and hateful towards him.”
Hussein Eisso, 62, a Syrian-Kurdish activist was taken outside his home at 2am on September 3rd, 2011, by the air-force intelligence branch, headed by Jamil Hasan. Bashar, his brother, who Avaaz filmed from his home in France, reported that: “My brother was on his way to his house when security agents arrested him. He was arrested two weeks ago for one day after he attempted a sit-in in front of the courthouse in Hasaka. He was discussing with the Attorney General the release of some activists. Eisso later revealed on Al-Arabiya that the Attorney General told him he was not an Arab and therefore it was none of his business. Eisso replied by saying “I am a Syrian and that is enough”. My brother was moved to more than one branch of intelligence in Syria and he has not been released because of his refusal to sign a statement of remorse. Hussein suffers from health problems and heart disease. He is in dire need of medication, but the security forces did not allow the family to bring him any. We have found out that he recently suffered a stroke which led to a state of paraplegia. His family is currently suffering a deplorable state of anxiety, especially following serious deterioration to his health. We fear for his life.”
Ahmad Ghassan Ibrahim is a 26 year old man from Qala’at al Hosn village in a Homs suburbs. His mother, Ms Fayzeh al Masri, said: “On February 27, 2012, my son drove his car from Qala’at al Hosn to the city of Talkalakh. It was then when we lost contact with him, until he called his aunt at 10.30pm from a number other than his. He told her that he was heading towards Homs and not to call him again, whether on his phone or the number that he called from. But we tried to contact him with no avail. We later found out that the number Ahmad called us from belongs to the military security branch in Homs. We did not give up and kept calling his cell phone. We asked almost every security branch about him, with no avail. Until about a month and a half ago when we called his cell phone and someone answered, saying that Ahmad was killed by a regime sniper and buried in Rastan, but we were not able to confirm this information. We have been seriously concerned for 6 months. We are certain that he would not have left us or his wife – who is expecting twins. We only want to know his fate.”
Mais*, whose husband Anas* was forcibly disappeared in Talkalakh in February this year was filmed by Avaaz and said: “The children need a father in their lives. It has been difficult to adapt. I have had a very hard time explaining his absence. They always ask me, ‘Where is Dad? Who took him?’ And I don’t know how to respond. I have to lie to them. I tell them he is at work, that he is ok.”
Avaaz has been campaigning to end the Syrian crisis since April 2011. It has trained a network of citizen journalists in media, tech and first aid, and supplied them with cameras, laptops and satellite equipment, enabling them to share information about what is happening in Syria with the international media.
The classification of a person as forcibly disappeared being used adheres to the definition provided in Article 2 of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which defines a disappearance as: “The arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.” Under the International Convention, “the widespread or systematic practice of enforced disappearance constitutes a crime against humanity.” The definition of a forcibly disappeared is once 30 days have passed since the initial date of disappearance.