Syria: Truth and Justice for the Detained and Disappeared Must be Ensured by the United Nations and Member States

In Arab Countries, International Advocacy Program by CIHRS

Civil society urges action from international community at 46th Human Rights Council

On 8 March 2021, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) held a joint webinar in parallel to the 46th regular session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, titled “Truth and Justice First for Syria’s Arbitrary Detention, Enforced Disappearance, and Torture Victims and their Families.” The UN side event, featuring Syrian civil society organizations representing survivors of arbitrary detention and torture and the families of the disappeared, raised awareness about the plight of countless Syrian victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity while calling for restorative action from the international community.

The event was co-hosted by the permanent missions of Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Liechtenstein, the Netherlands, and Sweden in conjunction with civil society organizations focused on arbitrary detention, torture, and enforced disappearance in Syria: the Ta’afi Initiative; the Coalition of Families of Persons Kidnapped by ISIS (Masser); Caesar Families Association (CFA); the Association of Detainees and the Missing in Sednaya Prison, Families for Freedom, and the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR). Moderated by Ms. Nada Awad, International Advocacy Officer at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, the webinar was attended by UN Member States, representatives of the UN bodies, and civil society.

In her opening remarks, Deputy Permanent Representative of the permanent mission of Canada, Ms. Tamara Mawhinney, said “much more still needs to be done to bring peace and justice to the Syrian people, and we must emphasize the importance of pursuing accountability and justice with a victim-centered approach.”

Speakers from Syrian associations called for the adoption of a victim-centered approach in international efforts for accountability and justice. Diab Serriya from the Association of Detainees and Missing of Sednaya Prison, Fadwa Mahmoud from Families for Freedom, and Khalil Al-Haj Saleh from the Coalition of Families of Persons Kidnapped by ISIS, shared their experiences and called on the international community to take tangible action guaranteeing the meaningful participation of victims and their families in Syria’s transitional justice and political processes. At the forefront of any such transitional or political process must be the investigation and revelation of the whereabouts and fates of the country’s detained and missing.

Civil society organizations also called on UN Member States to implement the UN Commission of Inquiry’s recommendation in its recent report on arbitrary imprisonment and detention to create an independent mechanism “to coordinate and consolidate claims regarding missing persons, including persons subjected to enforced disappearance .. .and effectively track and identify those missing and disappeared; help consolidate claims filed with a wide variety of non-governmental and humanitarian organizations” in order to “locate the missing or their remains, including those found in mass graves”.

According to the Commission of Inquiry, over the past decade, warring parties in Syria have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in the context of detention, and no warring party has respected the rights of detained persons in line with international legal obligations.

Within the context of ongoing impunity in Syria, Syrian families of persons forcibly disappeared and survivors of detention have mobilized and created a coalition and charter to ensure a victim-based approach, including the meaningful participation of victims and their families in accountability and transitional justice processes, as well as in the political process. In February 2021, the Truth and Justice Charter was launched by the Association of Detainees and Missing Persons of Sednaya Prison, the Caesar Families Association, the Coalition of Families of Persons Kidnapped by ISIS (Massar), Families for Freedom, and the Ta’afi Initiative, which presents a survivor-centered roadmap on justice and accountability for victims and their families in Syria. Truth and justice is key to any sustainable political solution in Syria.

You can view the webinar in Arabic here.

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