Hadi Albahra/ Co-Chair of the Constitutional Committee
It is one of the most complex and most tragic issues. The United Nations described it as a “national shock”. In fact, it is more than that; it is an ongoing “national catastrophe” that has affected the lives of millions of Syrians, and left a bleeding wound in the Syrian body. A wound linked to the rights and dignity of Syrians, and with justice and human rights. Syrians will not stop demanding resolving this issue forever.
In the past eleven years, Syrians have not stopped calling for the release of tens of thousands of detainees and forcibly disappeared persons, whose number is estimated by several human rights documentation sources at 150,000 at least. Several other organizations estimate that the figure is double that number. Those detainees are held in inhumane conditions, and subjected to the worst forms of isolation, torture and even killing. Around 85 percent of them are unaccounted for, and their relatives do not know if they are alive or not.
Since the early days of the revolution, the Syrian regime has pursued a policy of brutality against protestors and has practiced the most severe forms of degrading human dignity; from beating to arrest and killing under torture and even indiscriminate killing. The regime spared no one: men, women and children, and this has become systematic, and at a later stage other parties joined it in its brute force without any humane, human rights or national considerations.
At the beginning of 2014, the dissident known as Caesar leaked 55,000 photographs, documenting the killing of several thousands of detainees in the Syrian regime detention centers, clearly showing marks of torture and excessive violence. There were kids between 12 and 14 years old, women and elderly who were over 70 years among the photos. These shocking documented photos confirming the regime’s involvement in killing detainees were not enough for the international community to take action in order to put an end to these serious crimes and violations. The lives of tens of thousands of the disappeared and hundreds of thousands of their family members who live with anxiety and fear for their fate are connected with this issue.
These photo documentations are not the only ones. There are those who are working hard and faithfully to document all detainees, the missing and forcibly disappeared persons. Syrian and international human rights organizations, the revolution and opposition forces, and local and international specialized centers are working to document cases of people detained by all parties. There are documentations made by Amnesty International and the Independent International Commission of Inquiry, as well as the International Committee of the Red Cross and others on crimes committed in Syria. However, the complete process is very difficult, complicated and arduous, because Syria has become the worst in the world in this regard. In addition, some families of detainees refrain from documenting the cases of their family members detained out of fear, while others are losing confidence in the usefulness of cooperating in documentation processes. Others prefer to wait silently in the hope that they will see a closure for their tragedy and their loved ones will be released without fanfare.
There has not been a meaningful breakthrough in this bitter issue, although it is above negotiation issue and should not wait for reaching a political solution. Rather, such a solution cannot be reached and be sustainable without releasing the detainees and knowing the fate of the forcibly disappeared, and as long as the perpetrators and the jailers are free not held accountable for what they did to tens of thousands of detainees.
This issue concerns the Syrian regime, because revealing its magnitude and dimensions will indict it with war crimes and crimes against humanity, and will ultimately hold it accountable. This is why it has refused to positively deal and interact with this issue, and it is trying to completely deny the presence of detainees in its prisons and the dungeons of its security branches, or it tries to link their detention to the illegitimate counter-terrorism courts. But the regime, at the same time, brazenly exploits this issue to enter into corrupt financial deals to blackmail the families of the disappeared persons.
The Syrian revolution and opposition forces raise the issue of detainees at all talks in international, regional and Arab events. Syrian human rights organizations also carry out their duty in documenting and filing claims, and activists work individually to gather information, but the regime’s evasion of all international obligations, demands and duties obstructs any progress in closing this file.
Syrians of all backgrounds, including politicians, human rights defenders, members of the press and freedom and peace forces in Europe, the United States, Arab countries and in all countries of asylum and diaspora must make every possible effort to keep this issue under the spotlight, and urge the international community, especially the United Nations, the UN Security Council, and the High Commissioner For Human Rights to put pressure on the Syrian regime and its allies to force it reveal the fate of the missing persons, publish complete lists of their names, empty all its prisons and detention centers of innocent people, and move forward with a political solution based on Security Council Resolution 2254 (2015), which confirmed that the issue of detainees and the forcibly disappeared persons is an issue above negotiation, and one of the key trust-building measures. It also stipulated the need to immediately release all detainees, especially women and children.
In addition, the international community must put pressure on the Syrian regime and its allies to accept a mechanism for identifying the missing persons and a mechanism to support victims; pay attention to the psycho-social needs of detainees and their families, and for this end, allow the ICRC to access all detention centres and security prisons.
At the same time, we must not forget the importance and necessity of justice and accountability for Syria, as an entry point to achieve civil peace. Local and international human rights organizations must prosecute criminals involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Syria and hold them accountable before courts in Europe. They should also lobby in the United Nations General Assembly and the Human Rights Council demanding the establishment of a special tribunal to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Syria, or refer investigation findings to the International Criminal Court to try the jailers who have no humane feelings in their hearts or conscience, and who tortured, hid or killed the Syrian people. The most recent example of crime perpetrated was the al-Tadamon massacre, which provides conclusive and well-documented evidence. Of course, this is not the only crime, but it has been documented in a complete manner. No matter how the Syrian regime attempts to obstruct this humanitarian and legal issue, to water down and evade this issue all together, it will remain strongly present amongst Syrians, the structures and forces of revolution and opposition, civil society and human rights organizations and in international meetings. Everyone will continue seeking to reach a closure for this issue away from any political track, because it is non-negotiable humanitarian, legal and national issue. It will remain a stigma in the international conscience until a just radical solution is found; a solution that has no alternative for Syrians.
Source: Syria TV