Almost 82,000 Syrians have been forcibly disappeared by the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad since the start of the conflict, with over 14,000 listed as having died in detention, the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) revealed in a report today.
Revealing the systematic arrests of not only activists, but also of their family members and friends, SNHR published the figures collated since 2011 following the regime's decision to release information about the fate of some of the kidnap victims as of May this year. So far, Damascus has officially acknowledged the death of only 836 people who were in detention, three-quarters of whom were recorded in SNHR's database of missing persons.
"It is difficult to tell for sure what the Syrian regime's goal is, but I think there are two possible answers – the first is that the Russians were the ones who told the Syrian regime [to release the names] in order to end this issue [of enforced disappearances], that has become a hurdle in the way of wrapping up the Syrian catastrophe. The second one is that the Syrian regime wants to show that it has achieved victory on the ground, and all that is left to do is to end the detainees issue so residents and society can go back under its submission accepting the fact that this is their only choice," SNHR Chairman Fadel Abdul Ghany said.
"As defenders of human rights, we have to question the purpose of the Security Council, the OHCHR, and the international law in light of all of this."
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Of the 836 deaths officially confirmed by the Syrian regime, most of the disappeared were held in Saydnaya Military Prison in the suburbs of Damascus. The centre is closely affiliated to Syria's military intelligence and is a branch that has witnessed a high number of deaths due to torture.
The fate of nine children who were among the names released has also been revealed, with boys as young as 12 suspected of having died as a result of extreme torture in jail. One woman, 23-year-old Lama Nawwaf Al-Basha, is also recorded among the dead. Arrested in 2014, she was transferred to various prisons, before receiving a suspected death sentence in 2015.
SNHR recorded that 41 of the disappeared cases involved kinships, with brothers or fathers and sons often arrested together, and in some cases, executed on the same day. Many high profile activists during the early days of the Syrian revolution are also listed as dead, including ten university students, two engineers, two athletes and three religious figures.
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The SNHR team also published their estimate of the number of deaths believed to have taken place in Syrian regime detention centres, amounting to some 14,000 people between March 2011 and August 2018. Yet the report notes that the Syrian regime stopped delivering the bodies of those who died in detention to their families, offering no categorical proof other than a government-issued death certificate which neglects to note the cause of death. Consequently their cases remain open as forcibly disappeared until proven otherwise.
"The Syrian regime denied those detainees the right to an attorney and barred their families from visiting them. Eighty-five per cent of all detainees have become cases of enforced disappearances as the Syrian regime never informed their families of their whereabouts," the report concluded.
"SNHR believes that the Syrian regime has demonstrated a lack of commitment to the international agreements and treaties it ratified, in particular the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights."
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SNHR has called on the United Nations Security Council to hold an emergency meeting to discuss the revelations and protect detainees from torture while in detention. It has also called on the Office of the UN Commissioner for Human Rights to issue a statement on the issue and commission an extensive report in order to hold the guilty parties accountable and protect Syrian civilians from human rights violations.