International backers of negotiations to end the conflict in Syria should ensure that any transitional process includes a robust independent body to investigate thousands of “disappeared,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday.
The calls by the watchdog group came on the occasion of the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances which the United Nations designated on August 30 to raise awareness about enforced disappearances around the world.
An independent institution in charge of investigating the fate and whereabouts of the disappeared, as well as unidentified human remains and mass graves in Syria, should be created immediately, HRW added.
The rights group stressed that such institution “should have a broad mandate to investigate, including by reviewing all official records and interviewing any official, and be backed with international political and material support.”
International backers of the upcoming Astana and Geneva political processes should ensure that the issue of the detained and disappeared is thoroughly addressed in the negotiations, HRW said.
“Syria will not be able to move forward if negotiations fail to adequately address the horrors of detention and disappearance,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “This should not be ignored. Without progress, each day that passes will likely see more of the disappeared tortured or executed.”
“The scale of forced disappearances in Syria means that the victims and their family members likely number in the hundreds of thousands,” Whitson said. “For any resolution to the conflict to be sustainable, the issue of the disappeared needs to be addressed in a manner that delivers both news of their fate and justice.”
The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria has determined that the use of enforced disappearance by the Assad regime is widespread, and may amount to a crime against humanity.
UN Security Council Resolution 2139, adopted in February 2014, strongly condemned kidnappings, abductions, and forced disappearances in Syria, and demanded an immediate end to such practices and the release of all people arbitrarily detained.
The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) estimates that more than 65,000 people have been forcibly disappeared or abducted in Syria since 2011, the vast majority by regime forces and their allied militias. (Source: Syrian Coalition’s Media Department)