Ahead of a vote at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on 29 June on the establishment of an independent, international institution to clarify the fate and whereabouts of tens of thousands of missing and forcibly disappeared people in Syria since 2011, Amnesty International’s Secretary-General, Agnès Callamard, said:
“UN member states can provide a way to fulfil the families’ right to truth by establishing a victim-centred institution dedicated to providing them with long-awaited answers about what happened to their loved ones. They should heed the calls of the Syrian families and survivors who have been at the forefront of the effort to create such a body and vote in favour of the resolution.
“For more than a decade, families of the missing and forcibly disappeared have faced immense challenges in obtaining any information about the fate of their loved ones. All parties to the conflict have been unwilling to address the issue, leaving relatives in a state of perpetual agony and uncertainty. By establishing an institution focused on this very issue, the UN can help them find some of the answers they deserve.
“At least 100,000 people are believed to be missing or have been forcibly disappeared in Syria since 2011, primarily at the hands of the Syrian government’s security apparatus. The real number of people missing or disappeared is likely greater as parties to the conflict have never disclosed who is in their custody. This institution would offer a single avenue to register cases, consolidate existing information, and coordinate with other existing mechanisms to tackle this issue.”
The vote comes after UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, proposed the establishment of an independent institution in a landmark report published in August 2022 on how to bolster efforts to address the thousands of detentions and enforced disappearances committed since 2011 and provide support to the families.
On 23 June, Amnesty International and 101 civil society organizations sent a letter to the UN member states urging them to vote in favour of the institution’s establishment.
Amnesty International has previously documented the Syrian government’s systematic use of enforced disappearance against the civilian population in order to quell dissent, a campaign of crimes against humanity whose perpetrators must be brought to justice.
Armed opposition groups have also abducted civilians, including human rights defenders, many of whom are still missing.