Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat – The Avaaz Human Rights group that is working in Syria has claimed that “between 28,000 and 80,000 Syrians have been forcibly disappeared by the Syrian al-Assad regime over the past 9 months.”
Avaaz Director Alice Jay issued a statement revealing that Syrians are being “plucked off the street by security forces and paramilitaries and being ‘disappeared’ into torture cells.” She added “whether it is women buying groceries or farmers going for fuel…nobody is safe.”
Jay stressed that this was a deliberate strategy on the part of the al-Assad regime to “terrorize families and communities”, adding “the panic of not knowing whether your husband or child is alive breeds such fear that it silences dissent.”
The Avaaz Human Rights group director also asserted that “”the fate of each and every one of these people must be investigated and the perpetrators punished.” She said that under international law, “the widespread or systematic practice of enforced disappearance constitutes a crime against humanity.”
The Avaaz report quoted Syrian Network for Human Rights director, Fadel Abul Ghani, who revealed that at least 28,000 Syrians have been forcibly disappeared over the past 9 months, with 18,000 names being confirmed by family members. As for the remaining 10,000, information about their disappearance had been put forward, however the families of the missing have been reluctant to reveal names for fear of reprisals from the authorities.
Avaaz also cited Sawasya Human Rights director, Muhannad al-Hasani, who claimed that the number of enforced disappearances could be as high as 80,000. He said “people are being snatched at night, on the street what no-one is looking.”
As for why the Syrian regime is pursuing this campaign of enforced disappearances, Muhammad Khalil, a Syrian Human Rights lawyer based in Hassaka, opined that there are two reasons for this, namely “to directly get rid of the rebels and activists, and to intimidate the society so that it won’t oppose the regime.”
An Avaaz researcher, speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, revealed that the human rights group will put forward this report and the names of the disappeared, as well as the testimonies it has collected, to the United Nations Human Rights Council [UNHRC] to investigate this.
The source also stressed that Avaaz will seek to launch a “media and human rights campaign demanding the disclosure of the fate of the Syrians who have been forcibly disappeared” adding “when we took the decision to work on this report 6 months ago, we expected that the number of disappearances would not exceed the thousands, however in reality this exceeds the tens of thousands.”
The Avaaz source also revealed that “we faced great difficulty in documenting the names, particularly due to the high number of cases, however we were able to confirm 18,000 names.”
In July 2011, Avaaz estimated the number of forcible disappearances at fewer than 3,000 cases. The organization compared the present situation in Syria to the period of junta rule in Argentina between 1977 and 1983 when approximately 30,000 people disappeared.
Avaaz stressed that the phenomenon of enforced disappearances is nothing new in Syria, particularly as some 7,000 people went missing and are still unaccounted for during the rule of Hafez al-Assad.
The Avaaz report included a number of cases of forcibly disappeared Syrian citizens, such as that of 26-year old Ahmed Ghassan Ibrahim, who disappeared in February from a suburb of Homs. He was reported missing by his mother Fayzeh al-Masri; the last time he contacted his family, the number he called them from was traced to a military security branch. The family was told by somebody who answered his phone that he had died, but they have been unable to confirm this. Ahmed’s mother, Fayzeh al-Masri, told Avaaz “we are certain that he would not have left us or his wife – who is expecting twins. We only want to know his fate.”
There is also the case of Anas al-Shaghri, a 23-year-old Syrian who disappeared from the coastal city of Banias in May 2011, shortly after protests broke out against the al-Assad regime.
Shaghri was a political activist in Banias who had taken part in non-violent protests. He was arrested by the regime forces, with a former prisoner telling the Syrian youth’s family that Anas was being held in solitary confinement and tortured. Shaghri’s sister told Avaaz “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.”
She added “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.”
Another woman, identified by Avaaz as Mais, said that she has concealed her husband’s disappearance from her children. She said “the children need a father in their lives. 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.”