Tens of thousands of people have been unlawfully detained by the Syrian government and other parties to the conflict in Syria. In most cases, their fate—and if they are alive, their whereabouts—remains unknown. Many families have been waiting for word of their spouses, children, and other relatives since mass protests first began in 2011. This situation is adversely affecting not only Syrians inside the country—including over 6.5 million who are internally displaced—but also many of the 5.6 million refugees who are likewise desperately seeking answers about family members from abroad.
This joint report from the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) and the Center on International Cooperation (CIC) recommends a set of urgent steps that should be taken to assist families in obtaining information about the whereabouts of their loved ones, gaining access to them, and achieving their prompt release. Authored by CIC’s Hanny Megally and ICTJ’s Elena Naughton, the report details the scope of the detention crisis and argues that answers and coordinated action are needed now. Time is of the essence, as the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be accelerating in Syria, putting those detained in overcrowded and unsanitary prisons at further risk.
Any meaningful progress toward a political agreement in Syria will be dependent on more than a negotiated ceasefire or reduction in violence and urgent access to humanitarian assistance. There will be little or no possibility of lasting peace without addressing critical issues, like the question of the missing, detained, abducted, and forcibly disappeared.