Home Investigative Reports “My Mother still Hopes He’s Alive”: Dozens of Syrian Families Told their Detained Loved Ones are Dead

“My Mother still Hopes He’s Alive”: Dozens of Syrian Families Told their Detained Loved Ones are Dead

Hundreds of “certificates" are delivered to the civil registration departments in Homs, Hama, Deir ez-Zor, Damascus, Daraa, and Quneitra, declaring dead persons detained by Syrian security services

by bassamalahmed
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Executive Summary

Many Syrian families were horrified to learn that their beloved ones have died in the detention facilities of the Syrian security services, some of whom were detained and forcibly disappeared for months, even years.

Detainees were recorded as deceased by the civil registration departments across Syria, particularly by those in the Syrian government territories, such as the city of Deir ez-Zor, and the provinces of Homs, Hama, and Damascus, which is the culmination of the efforts made by Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ) for months, as the team monitored death reports from the second half of 2019 to November 2020, as well as Daraa and Quneitra south of the country which was covered in this report between August 2018 and October 2020.

For the purposes of this report, STJ has obtained exclusive documents from the families of detainees and forcibly disappeared, demonstrating that dozens died in the detention facilities run by Syrian security services.  In addition to documents, STJ interviewed inside sources in a number of civil registry departments.

In the cities of Homs and Hama, the Syrian government’s civil registry departments provided many families with death certificates of persons detained by security services. The families, however, do not have the slightest hint as to the circumstances of death, or the burial places of their beloved ones. They were granted only the death certificate, stating nothing but the date of death and other personal information.

In Damascus and its suburbs, STJ documented the death of at least five detainees, including two women, in detention facilities of the security services. Families were given death certificates by the civil registry department in Damascus.

In the city of Deir ez-Zor, nearly 370 detainees, including 28 women, were reported dead by the Syrian authorities to the civil registry department between 1 October 2019 and 1 November 2020, a source of the department told STJ.

In the provinces of Daraa and Quneitra, the Syrian authorities delivered certificates to families, declaring the death of at least 54 detainees between August 2018 and October 2020.

It ought to be mentioned that both provinces are subject to a reconciliation/settlement agreement, signed under Russia’s auspices in August 2018. The agreement legalizes the status of individual signatories and protects them from arrest by the Syrian security services, and potential death in detention facilities. Nevertheless, the agreement is apparently ineffective, for the overwhelming majority of the death certificates delivered to families in Daraa and Quneitra are of persons detained following its enforcement.

In the remaining cases, the victims were detained prior to the agreement in August 2018, but were declared dead after it became operative.

Within the period reported, STJ observed that the Syrian authorities were less keen on informing families of the death of their relatives, unlike former occasions, namely before 2019.

This time, a large proportion of the bereaved families were told the death news by coincidence. Upon referring to the civil registry departments in their areas to obtain detainees-related documents, such as a family civil registration extract, family members would be shocked by reading the word deceased under the names of their fathers, sons, husbands, or wives and daughters.

In most cases, families were not delivered the bodies of their dead relatives. Except for the death certificates, families were even denied access to all other details, including death reasons or burial places.

Only rarely, families were informed of the deaths by parties other than the civil registry department, such as the neighborhood’s mukhtars,[1] the local police, or the security services which detained the deceased. A few families were delivered bodies.

According to information obtained by STJ, some of the detainees were reported dead shortly after their arrest. In Damascus city, one woman’s death was recorded as having occurred only two months after her arrest. Another woman, in Duma city, was recorded dead one month after her arrest.

Several challenges hamper the victims’ families attempts to obtain death certificates from the civil registry departments. This is the case in Southern Syria areas particularly, where families are subjected to extortion and are coerced to bribe employees to get necessary certificates.

In a May 2020 report, covering similar struggles in Southern Syria, STJ documented thousands of families’ inability to obtain death certificates for relatives who died while fighting for armed opposition groups, including Islamist ones, during the active fighting across Syria, or in ground attacks or air raids on the area when it was still controlled by the said armed opposition groups.

Families were denied access to death certificates due to the decisions, unwritten and “unpublished”, made in early August 2018 by the departments of the civil registry or the secretariats of the Syrian Ministry of Interior in Southern Syria.[2]

In a former report, covering Hama province, STJ has also documented the death of hundreds of detainees, as recorded by the civil registry departments from late 2018 to late 2019.[3]


This report draws on a total of 21 interviews and testimonies, mostly of families delivered death declarations of relatives detained by the Syrian security services from the second half of 2019 to early November 2020.

STJ’s field researchers interviewed three of the said families in Homs city; three in Hama city; and five in Damascus city, as well as two in northern Hama countryside and six in Daraa province.

Furthermore, the researchers obtained accounts from a media activist and informed sources of the civil registry department in Deir ez-Zor city.

It should be noted that some of the interviews were conducted online, others in person. However, they were all made between late 2019 and early November 2020.


You may read and download the full version of this report in PDF format, by clicking here (20 pages).


[1] The governor or head of the neighborhood.

[2] “Southern Syria: Thousands of Survivors Fail to Register their Dead Relatives” STJ, 21 May 2020, https://stj-sy.org/en/southern-syria-thousands-of-survivors-fail-to-register-their-dead-relatives/ (last accessed: 24 January 2021).

[3] “New Notifications Declare Dead Hundreds in Syrian Security Services’ Detention Facilities”, STJ, 18 June 2019, https://stj-sy.org/en/new-notifications-declare-dead-hundreds-in-syrian-security-services-detention-facilities/ (last accessed: 24 January 2021).

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