Enforced disappearances – the practice by states or governments to detain (or worse) citizens and keep their families in the dark about their fate – have been a human rights problem in Syria for decades. However, Syrian authorities’ heavy handed response to the popular uprising, characterized by an utter disregard for human rights, has led to a dramatic rise in cases of enforced disappearance. This issue and its long-standing impact on families and loved ones, are widely underreported.
Much of the Syrian government’s strategy relies on us simply forgetting about political detainees. In the case of enforced disappearances, this strategy is taken to next level: putting political opponents and activists completely outside the law, and very literally, outside of our memories. Victims are disappeared without a trace – with governments careful not to leave behind any trail of official records or information, deepening families’ despair and banking on to us forget. Well, I refuse to play by their rules.
Today, on the International Day for the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, we are shining a light on some individuals that the Syrian government – as well as other repressive regimes around the globe – want you to forget. We are tracking several cases using Eyes on Syria , and I want to provide you with an opportunity to join me in countering the Syrian governments’ attempt to make people disappear.
“I don’t want to live, let me die”
Anas al-Shogre is a student and pro-reform activist in Banias, Syria. He was detained more than 15 months ago, during the night of 14 May 2011. Sources told his family that he was initially held at the Military Security branch in the city of Tartous, south of Banias, before being transferred to the State Security branch in Damascus. His family visited the facility in Tartous and staff confirmed that he was being held at a security branch, but refused to provide further details. Released detainees say that at the Military Security branch, they heard him scream: “I don’t want to live, let me die”, raising fears that he was being tortured. He was reportedly last seen in October 2011.
As this case shows, enforced disappearances bear the great risk of being a gateway to other violations, such as torture.
According to news reports, Syrian authorities recently released a Lebanese man who was forcibly disappeared – after a shocking 27 years in detention.
Enforced disappearance is a violation of International humanitarian law and human rights law. If committed in a systematic or widespread manner, enforced disappearances can also constitute crimes against humanity.
A global problem requires a global solution
The crime of enforced disappearance is not limited to Syria. In fact, it’s a global problem and Amnesty International has documented cases on every continent. Here’s the story of Artur Akhamatkhanov, another student, this time from Grozny. His mother describes her daily ordeal:
Even today I think, maybe today, tomorrow, they will return my son to me [...] Every night he appears in my sleep and during the day I cry all the time [...] That is not a life anymore. For me everything came to a halt. I don’t live; I just walk over the earth.
Artur Akhamatkhanov was subject to enforced disappearance in Grozny in 2003, when he was 22 years old.
What else can we do to prevent more people to become victims of enforced disappearance? In 2006, the UN adopted the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which is the strongest instrument to end the practice of enforced disappearances to date. Unfortunately, only 34 states have ratified this treaty so far (91 countries have signed). On this day, when we remember victims of enforced disappearances, such as Anas from Syria and Artur from the Chechen Republic, we are urging governments to ratify the convention and strife to end to practice of enforced disappearances once and for all.
As an individual, you can speak out on behalf of Syrians that the regime forcibly disappeared during its brutal crackdown on its own citizens.