The Syrian economy is collapsing, and the Syrian people are suffering. But the Assad regime has found a new “cash cow” that is reaping great profit for the government: enforced disappearances.
By Munira al-Hamwi, mother of ‘disappeared’ Syrian human rights attorney Razan Zaitouneh
They asked me to write about my daughter, Razan Zaitouneh. I am not a journalist or a writer but I will write what is on my mind. I will not talk about Razan’s work or her achievements as so many others have done so already.
I will never forget those times at the start of the uprising in Syria when she faded out of the public eye in order to avoid arrest. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST
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’ve been following the debate about whether India’s Jammu & Kashmir government (called J&K or Kashmir interchangeably) will lift the draconian impunity legislation (called the AFSPA) for soldiers now in place over large swathes of Kashmir Valley.
The Indian Army, for its part, makes the rather astounding claim that if they are not allowed to continue to operate in the Kashmir Valley without impunity then Kashmir will secede. I often hear this type of stuff as well—oh if we don’t continue to abuse human rights with legal cover, then the terrorists win!
The irony is that opponents of lifting legal immunity are admitting that the security forces have been responsible for widespread human rights violations in the Kashmir Valley and that is the only way to keep Kashmir in India.
On August 30, Amnesty International and other human rights groups around the world will observe the International Day of the Disappeared. We’ll be pressing governments to disclose the status of the disappeared and to prosecute those responsible for enforced disappearances. Here’s how you can join us:
By Leila Chacko, Country Specialist for the Philippines
August 30th marks the International Day of the Disappeared. This would be an appropriate time for the Philippine government to answer questions regarding disappeared citizens, including indigenous people’s activist James Balao. He is one of at least 200 to have disappeared in the Philippines over the last decade.
Balao disappeared from his home on September 17, 2008 when he was taken by armed men, claiming to be police. He has not been seen or heard from since.
Balao is a part of the Igorot ethnic group, an indigenous minority from the Cordillera region. He is a founding member of the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA), a grassroots organization advocating for indigenous people’s rights. The military has called the CPA a communist organization, and called Balao a communist. The CPA feels Balao may have disappeared as a result of the government’s anti-terrorism measures (Operation Plan Bantay Laya), which has unfairly targeted legitimate organizations.
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Following a report by a police investigation team, confirming the existence of over 2,700 unmarked graves containing bodies of people subject to enforced disappearances, urgent action needs to be taken including preserving the evidence and widening the investigation across Jammu and Kashmir.
Over 2,700 unmarked graves have been identified by the 11-member police team of the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) in four districts of north Kashmir. Despite claims of the local police that the graves contained dead bodies of “unidentified militants”, the report points out that 574 bodies have been identified as disappeared locals – 17 of these have already been exhumed and shifted to family or village grave sites.
The police report concludes that there is “every probability” that the remaining over 2,100 unidentified graves “may contain the dead bodies of [persons subject to] enforced disappearances.” The report further clarifies that the only way to negate such a claim is to study the DNA profiles of the unidentified dead bodies and warns that in the absence of such tests, “it has to be assumed/ presumed that [the] State wants to remain silent deliberately to hide the Human Rights violations”.
In the last two weeks, Francisco Pineda and Everto González, two members of the community council of Caracolí in north-west Colombia, were subjected to enforced disappearance by paramilitaries. They were both picked up by a group of paramilitaries, who took them away to “resolve some land issues.”
Pineda and González have not been heard from since, and their whereabouts remain unknown. Amnesty International fears their lives and the lives of other members of the Afro-descendant community may be at risk, and has issued an Urgent Action on their behalf.
Enforced disappearances persist in many countries all over the world, and violate a wide range of human rights. In Colombia, especially, there is tremendous impunity for enforced disappearances, and violators continue to evade justice.
Turkey, more than most countries, is a place where forgetting the past has become a central component of national culture. This August 30, the International Day of the Disappeared, is a time when Turkey should renew its efforts at uncovering and facing some of the uglier pages of that past in the hopes of creating a freer, more democratic future.
Although many mass graves in Turkey can be traced to the beginning of the century, a map recently published in the daily, Radikal, highlights the startling extent of such sites dating from the 1990’s, when the war between the Turkish state and the Kurdish nationalist, PKK, or Kurdish Workers’ Party, burned hottest. The bodies of thousands were unceremoniously dumped into mass graves.
Amnesty International condemns all enforced disappearances as crimes under international law. And on August 30, we’ll be doing something about them.
An enforced disappearance occurs when a person is arrested or abducted by the state or agents of the state, who then deny that the person is being held or conceal their whereabouts, placing them outside the protection of the law.
Enforced disappearances take place around in the world, including in countries such as China, Nepal, Chad, Sri Lanka and North Korea. In Sri Lanka, tens of thousands of enforced disappearances occurred during decades of civil conflict on the island. One recent example is the journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda, who went missing after work on Jan. 24, 2010.