Preface: Kidnapping civilians is one of the most dangerous violations spread in the Syrian southern provinces. It has impact on the social interactions among locals of those provinces, particularly in the predominantly Arab Sunni province of Daraa and the mainly Druze province of as-Suwayda, following the increase of abduction and counter-abduction among armed groups in both provinces during the recent months in particular and during the years of the Syrian conflict in general. Many abductees experienced torture and murder and their families experienced terrible financial blackmail. According to the families and the persons interviewed for this report, abduction can be described as an organized and a public phenomena that affected negatively on the local peace among components of both provinces.
Based on many testimonies collected by Syrians for Truth and Justice/STJ, the abduction phenomena is supervised by the security system and its affiliated militias in Syrian government -held areas as well as supervised by organized armed groups in armed opposition-held areas.
Since the beginning of January 2017, insecurity increased in as-Suwayda, notably in the areas that border Daraa province , as kidnapping and theft became a sustenance for most members of the armed groups in both provinces. Dozens of abductions were recorded in the western countryside of as-Suwayda, notably in al-Thaala, Era, al-Qurrayya and Sami’ villages, although there are several security checkpoints of the National Defense, affiliated to the Syrian regular forces, which are near Daraa countryside held by Syrian armed opposition. In turn, several counter-abductions recorded that were carried out by families of the abductees against some locals of Daraa who are displaced in as-Suwayda, STJ reporter stated.
The number of the abductees between both provinces in just January 2017 reached 150 abductees, most of them were released after paying financial ransoms, whereas kidnappings decreased during the months followed January 2017 and increased again to be at least 65 abductees in August. From January to August, 300 kidnappings occurred, STJ reporters and other well-informed sources stated.
The report in its methodology is based on many accounts and separate testimonies some of which belongs to former “abductees” from Daraa and as-Suwayda whom were abducted in different periods, whereas other testimonies belong to activists who witnessed kidnappings from both provinces. The report is also based on testimonies of personnel of the judiciary field in both provinces in order to consider the role of jurisdiction to end the kidnapping phenomena. Finally, we, STJ, had to listen to the testimonies of researchers and experts who specifically worked previously in documenting kidnappings between Daraa and as-Suwayda.
Totally, the research based-team interviewed up to 25 persons.
Challenges and Difficulties
The fear to testify by ‘former abductees” and by families of the former and current abductees was the main challenge that the research based-team encountered. The fear led many witnesses not to disclose their identity. For six months, STJ has attempted to obtain more testimonies of “former abductees” but to persuade some of them to testify was one of the most difficulties, notably that some are still living inside the opposition-held Daraa or living in the Syrian government-held as-Suwayda province.
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