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Joint Report: “Years without a Trace”

A Special Joint Report Highlights Suffering of the Forcibly Disappeared Families in Syria

by wael.m
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Background: International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances on August 30. On December, 21, 2010 the General Assembly in its resolution No. 65/209 decided to adopt International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, after many States signed and ratified it, it also decided to declare 30 August an International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, to be observed since the beginning 2011.

The Convention states number of procedural guarantees to stop disappearance of persons, including the necessity to keep every person deprived of liberty in an official place, restrict and register all his movements. More importantly, the necessity to enable every person deprived of his or her liberty to be connected to the outside world, and with his or her family and with a legal counsel, as the family has the right to obtain information on the detention and detained whereabouts.

The International Convention for the Protection of All persons from Enforced Disappearance is the first convention to recognize that the concept of victims of enforced disappearance is not only for the disappeared but also for their families. The Convention also recognizes the right of families to know the fate of victims of enforced disappearance and the right to compensate the damage they already suffered[1].

Enforced disappearance has become a universal matter and it is no longer limited to a particular region of the world. This phenomenon was essentially product of military dictatorships and enforced disappearance, but today it is conduct of any internal conflict in complex circumstances, or particularly it is used as means of political pressure on adversaries[2].


  • To Released  and Survivors of Enforced Disappearance:

1. Participate names of disappeared and detainees, either in the place of custody or the places they were transferred to, with the detainees family and the date and place of the last sighting.

2. Cooperate with highly credible local and international organizations in order to document their views during the period of detention, either for immediate publication purposes/advocacy or documentation for future prosecutions.

3. Former disappeared and survivors must not underestimate the effects of disappearances, arrests and torture, especially with prolonged disappearance. Moreover, survivor must undergo assessment sessions by specialists to determine the level of damage they have, and to initiate appropriate remedial actions and medical interventions.

  • To Victims of enforced disappeared families:

1. Ensure fully documentation of the disappearance state, and the possibility of sharing the information about the disappeared with high credibility local and international authorities taking into consideration their safety and the disappeared as well.

2. Keep all official identity papers of the disappeared (ID card, driving certificate, passport, family book, university degrees, military service book, proxy, if there is ….etc.).

3. Preserve information related to the medical state of disappeared, such as information on the status of the teeth, if any, X-ray, medical report, analysis… etc. As well as information on the luggage of the disappeared when he disappeared, the clothes he was wearing, and any other distinctive information.

4. Attempt to transfer disappeared’s movable and immovable properties to other members of the family, especially in the case of having power of attorney such as transfer property, withdraw money from the bank account… However, detainees’ movable and immovable properties are usually seized and confiscated following accusing them with terrorism-related charges by regime.

5. Cooperate with other disappeared families to establish support advocacy associations among them, in order to conduct activities help to uncover the disappeared fate. However, through these associations, they can, to name but a few, exchange genuine information about self-disclosure processes, and mutual psychological support sessions.

6. Conduct proper legal inquiry through honest lawyers, who do not blackmail the disappeared families, therefore, they can do correct processes with regard to the subject matter of disappeared research. In addition to, share stories of success in knowing the fate of their children with other disappeared families, and warn them of blackmail by people or entities.

  • To the Office of the United Nations Special Envoy (Steffan de Mistura)

1. Press on negotiating delegations, particularly the Syrian government delegation to disclosure the fate of tens of thousands of forcibly disappeared, especially those who brought before the military field courts.

2. Take a clear stand on arbitrary detentions operations followed by enforced disappearance for exchanges between the conflicting parties, therefore the civilian is the fuel for such operations.

3. Make disappeared case the basic anchor during Astana and Geneva talks.

4. Request the negotiating delegations, and specifically the Syrian government delegation, to grant recognized international monitors access to all official and unofficial detention facilities without prior notice.

  • To the Syrian Government and Armed Groups:

A – To the Syrian government

1. Stop all executions of detainees, especially those brought before the military field courts.

2. Stop transferring detainees to the military field Court and other illegal courts such as the Counter-terrorism Court, and consider the issued sentences ineffective.

3. Not destroy documents and reports of forcibly disappeared and detainees.

4. Transfer all detainees to known/recognized detention centers and allow families, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the specialized committees visit the disappeared in the prisons.

5. Allow Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria to conduct impartial investigations on violations occurring in Syria.

6. Account those responsible for unfair, nondependent extrajudicial executions.

7. Ensure register the data of all detainees and informed them with the reasons of detention. In addition to periodically and impartially revision of those reasons, and guarantee access to health care for detainees.

8. Sign and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, to include the crime of enforced disappearance in the local law, defining all criminal actions established in the Convention, and accepting the competence of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances.

9. Establish a relevant government body to manage the records of detainees and reply to their families' enquiries.

10. Take action to ensure that all participants in the search for victims of enforced disappearance, particularly detainees’ families and relatives, are protected from ill-treatment, smuggling, retaliation, arrests and enforced disappearance.

11. Ensure that victims’ families, survivors and released of enforced disappearance obtain compensation including material compensation, rehabilitation and restitution of property and ensure of non-recurrence, and account all those who committed such crimes.

B – To Armed Groups

  1. End all enforced disappearances actions and enclosure fate of the disappeared.

  2. Hand out lists of abductees and disappeared names to their families and to highly credibility international organizations.

  3. Register names and data of all detainees and transfer them to known/recognized places of detention.

  4. Inform detainees about their detention reasons as soon as possible, and enable them to contact the outside world, and ensure that they get the right to self-defense, appeal against the lawfulness of their detention.

  5. End executions against detainees.

  6. End abductions and arbitrary arrests in order to swap other detainees later.

  • To Syrian  Organizations Working on Human Rights and Documentation:

  1.  Create a system of participation to make it possible to complete the information of all the disappeared in Syria, regardless of who was responsible for the act, affiliation, identity, region, sect or nationality of the victim. This could be through establishing national database of the disappeared, which include background information that helps to locate the disappeared, such as the DNA of the disappeared family, and evidence of involvement of State actors or armed groups in enforced disappearance, in addition to the investigations in the case. The criteria for collecting such data should be unified among the relevant institutions to ensure the effectiveness of the database.

  2. Networking the survivors of enforced disappearance with the competent psychological support organizations in order to assist and provide them with psychological support.

  3. Inform survivors of enforced disappearance of their rights under international or national laws, document their views during the detention period, and sensitize them to follow proper legal procedures to provide them better opportunities for future prosecutions.

  4. Sensitize disappeared families to the proper legal procedures during searching for the disappeared, either through United Nations mechanisms or the, international and national, available mechanisms.

  5.  Provide legal assistance to families of the missing and victims of   enforced disappearance and facilitate easier access to aid.

  • To International Legal Organizations:

  1.  Create further reports and research on the enforced disappearances in Syria.

  2. Advocate against the perpetrators of this crime in order to guarantee the forcibly disappeared rights and to press on their governments to protect the forcibly disappeared in Syria.

  3. Cooperate with local Syrian organizations in all of the above, through funding and building their capacity to deal with the crime of enforced disappearance.

  • To Donor Governments and Organizations:

  1. Sponsor support programs for the disappeared physically and morally.

  2. Create ad hoc projects to support families of the enforced disappeared physically, morally and professionally due to absence of the breadwinner.

  3. Investigate and prosecute members of the Syrian military and civilian command suspected of committing international crimes relating to enforced disappearance and abduction under the principle of universal jurisdiction and in accordance with their national laws.

  4.  Call the United Nations Security Council to refer the Syrian case to the International Criminal Court to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity, which may include enforced disappearances and abductions.

  5.  Shed light on this crime in their speeches in international/local forums and not to drop them.

  6. Fund organizations that work on cases of enforced disappearance.

  7. Practice diplomatic pressure on the Syrian government to release and guarantee the rights of the forcibly disappeared.

Methodology and challenges

The present report was based on 25 testimonies and interviews, in which Syrians for truth and Justice/STJ completed 22 testimonies and accounts while Justice for Life Organization, the partner, prepared three testimonies in this report.  Families of the disappeared were interviewed to talk about effects of their children’s disappearance. The report-based team also reviewed many other sources, they talk about both, the circumstances of the disappearance, or its impact, so that this report serves as complementary efforts for local Syrian organizations or International organizations that worked on cases of forcibly disappeared in Syria.

One of the main challenges faced working team was that many disappeared families who had been contacted, except those who agreed, refused to testify primarily out of fear for themselves and secondly for the disappeared lives, whereas the above-mentioned number accepted. Anyway, those challenges included the difficulty of gaining access to testimonies about disappeared women, for many reasons, including the families’ refusal to declare the disappearance of women out of fear of shame.

Besides, one of the challenges faced the working team was that disappeared families lack knowledge of any details about the disappearance/abduction of their sons and the lack of proper follow-up of the case.


The numbers of forced disappeared in Syria constitute one of the largest figures in the Middle East, although the Syrian security apparatus had consistently concealed forcibly tens of thousands of Syrians following the 2011 uprising. However, the history of enforced disappearance in Syria goes back to previous decades, during the 1980s or prior decades.

Parties to the Syrian conflict still use the weapon of enforced disappearance as a tool of intimidation and crush opponents or violators in a systematic and calculated manner.

Cases of enforced disappearance are accompanied with violation of other human rights, whether they precede the disappearance itself, such as violating person’s rights in security and dignity, and the violation of the right not to be arbitrarily detained. The violations accompany enforced disappearances are not limited to the period prior to the disappearance, but also to lot of violations during the process of disappearance, which particularly emphasize the right of detainees not to be subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. As well as the right to live in humane conditions during detention, legal personality and a fair trial.

The reported violations after disappearance are related to the right of family life and in life itself, especially in cases like killing the victim, under torture or because of conditions of detention, starvation and other violations.

Although there are no precise figures on those who died in Syria after they disappeared. The documentation centers and local organizations talk about tens of thousands cases among disappeared and dead under torture.

This report, in addition to documenting cases of forcibly disappeared persons, attempts to focus on the effects of enforced disappearance both on the victim itself, and on his family as well (mother, father, siblings, wife, children, relatives, friends, and others), this report will shed more light on the psychological, physical, legal, and social effects on disappeared families.


You may read & download the full report in PDF forma by clicking here,


[1] Enforced disappearance: The United Nations Convention "a major achievement" gives new hope to the International Committee of the Red Cross:

[2] United Nations code: International Day for Victims of enforced disappearance:

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