Families of the disappeared in the Middle East wait more than a million years collectively for their loved ones

Families in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen persevere in their struggle for justice, truth and reparation for their disappeared loved ones. Read the stories of their struggle and share in solidarity.

Families of the disappeared wage a struggle for justice, truth and reparation in the face of state apathy

Across the Middle East, both state authorities and non-state actors, such as armed opposition groups, abduct and disappear people as a way to crush dissent, cement their power, and spread terror within societies, often with total impunity. Human rights defenders, peaceful protesters, journalists, and political dissidents are often specifically targeted.

Families and loved ones of the disappeared are left in limbo and experience constant mental anguish for many years and, sometimes, even decades. Most often, it is women who lead the struggle for truth, justice, and reparation, putting themselves at risk of intimidation, persecution and violence. And it is women who are left to shoulder the financial burden of providing for their families and caring for them, often with little to no state support and while facing oppressive patriarchal norms. They can neither organize a dignified burial nor properly grieve, and they spend their lives campaigning for the authorities to reveal the fate and whereabouts of their relatives.

In Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen alone, families have waited and campaigned more than a million years collectively for news of their missing loved ones

While the governments of most those states have not investigated disappearances nor provided accurate numbers of those missing or disappeared, family associations, human rights organizations and UN bodies have published estimates for the number of people abducted and disappeared in each country. In Iraq, the numbers range between 250,000 to one million disappeared. In Lebanon, the official figure is 17,415. In Syria, human rights organizations estimate the number to be over 100,000. In Yemen, human rights organizations have documented 1,547 cases of disappearance. When these numbers are multiplied by a conservative estimate of how many years these individuals have been missing, a tragic picture emerges of the agonising number of years families have spent waiting for answers – more than a million years.

In the absence of effective state action, families of the disappeared have united under victim and family associations to demand their rights – often at great costs and personal risks. The right to truth for individuals and societies is recognized in international law and in the context of enforced disappearances, meaning “the right to know about the progress and results of an investigation, the fate or the whereabouts of the disappeared persons, and the circumstances of the disappearances, and the identity of the perpetrator(s)”.

To commemorate the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappeared, Amnesty International is sharing the stories of extraordinary sacrifice and persistence by the families of the disappeared and by human rights organizations in each of these countries. The quest for truth, justice and reparation looks different for the families in each country, but what unites them is their shared struggle and their vision for a more free, safe, and cohesive society. 

Share these stories in solidarity with the families of the disappeared and demand that meaningful action be taken to reveal the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones.

MORE THAN A MILLION YEARS

Families of the disappeared in the middle east wait more than a million years collectively for their loved ones.

Iraq: Campaigning for answers

Iraq has one of the highest numbers of disappearances in the world, with people abducted and forcibly disappeared during the Ba’ath era (1968 – 2003), the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq (2003-2011), the years of sectarian violence (2006-2008), the conflict with the armed group self-identified as the Islamic State (IS) (2013-2017), and the crackdown against protestors during the nationwide anti-government protests in 2019 and its aftermath.

Despite Iraq’s ratification of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances, consecutive Iraqi governments have repeatedly failed to take meaningful steps to investigate disappearances, reveal the fate and whereabouts of those missing, or hold accountable those suspected of criminal responsibility. Crucially, the Iraqi authorities have still not recognized enforced disappearance as an autonomous crime in national legislation, and there have been no prosecutions for those suspected of criminal responsibility for enforced disappearance.  

In April 2022, families of the disappeared launched the #DeadorAliveWeWantThem campaign to demand answers regarding the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones who were disappeared during the conflict with the Islamic State. The campaign was supported by Al Haq Foundation for Human Rights, which is helping families organize themselves nationwide and unify their demands across their locations, their backgrounds and the circumstances under which their loves ones went missing. On 15 August 2023, in the lead up to the International Day for the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, Iraqi families of the disappeared, survivors of enforced disappearances and human rights organizations came together in nationwide protests demanding truth and justice for abductions and enforced disappearances.

250,000

TO

1,000,000

According to the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances, Iraq has an estimated 250,000 to
1 million missing persons since 1968, making it one of the countries with the highest number of missing persons worldwide.

Demands to the Iraqi authorities:

  • Ensure timely, independent and thorough investigations into enforced disappearances and provide regular and transparent updates to the public about the progress of these investigations;
  • Ensure protection from reprisals for those seeking justice.

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Demands to Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen authorities:

Investigate and publicly report on findings regarding the fate and whereabouts of the missing;

Prosecute those suspected of criminal responsibility for enforced disappearances in fair trials before ordinary civilian courts and without recourse to the death penalty;

Make enforced disappearance criminal under national law and punishable by appropriate penalties.

Ensure families of the missing and disappeared receive adequate reparations, including compensation, rehabilitation, restitution and guarantees of non-repetition;

Identify and preserve mass graves, facilitating restitution of remains to the families;

Ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance without making any reservations and implement it fully into national law;

Promptly ratify the Rome Statute and become a party to the International Criminal Court;

What can you do?

Share these stories in solidarity with the families of the disappeared and demand that meaningful action be taken to reveal the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones. 

The families of the disappeared in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen have spent more than #AMillionYearsWaiting for answers about their loved ones. It’s time for the authorities to take real action in providing justice and reparations to the families. amn.st/2060