GENEVA (13 December 2013) – Syrians continue to fall victim to a callous indifference to human life and disregard for safety, exemplified by the increasing trend of abductions and enforced disappearances, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay warned Friday.
“In just the past few months, we have seen a significant and deeply alarming rise in abductions of human rights defenders, activists, journalists, religious figures and others by armed opposition groups, as well as the continuing arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances of individuals by Government forces in Syria,” Pillay said.
On 9 December, five masked gunmen reportedly stormed into a joint office for two human rights and humanitarian NGOs, the Violations Documentation Center, and the Local Development and Small Projects in opposition-controlled Douma in Rif Dimashq. They abducted award-winning Syrian human rights defender Razan Zaitouneh. Her husband, Wa’el Hamada, who is a prominent activist and former political prisoner, and two other colleagues, Nazem Hamadi and Samira Khalil, were also abducted.
“Human rights defenders, humanitarian aid workers and activists take great personal risks on a daily basis to document human rights violations throughout Syria, and provide much-needed humanitarian aid to people, including those under siege,” Pillay said.
“I urge all parties to the Syrian conflict to stop terrorising civilians through abduction, hostage-taking, enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention, in clear violation of international human rights and humanitarian law. I call on all parties to the conflict to refrain from targeting civilians and to immediately release all those who are deprived of their liberty in violation of international law.” Pillay stressed.
The abductions of Zaitouneh and her colleagues came just hours after the families of two Spanish journalists, who were abducted in Syria nearly three months ago, appealed publicly for their release. They are among dozens of other journalists who have been abducted in the course of the conflict in Syria. Major news organisations have warned that the increasingly risk of abduction will deter reporting from inside Syria.
“The Government and armed groups have the obligation under international law to take all necessary steps to ensure that all civilians, including human rights defenders, are protected from any intimidation or violence as a result of their activities,” Pillay stressed.
“Under international humanitarian law, attacks against journalists are strictly prohibited. Their work is indispensable in times of conflict and must be protected.”
The High Commissioner also expressed concern over the apparent abduction of 12 nuns from Maaloula and called for their immediate and unconditional release.
Meanwhile, innumerable civilians, including women and children, who were arbitrarily detained by the Government as far back as 2011 remain unaccounted for.
“The UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria has been documenting the increasing use of enforced disappearance as a strategy used by Government and pro-Government forces to stifle dissent and spread terror within society,” the High Commissioner said.
“Families of these detainees have in many cases had no word about the whereabouts of their loved ones and do not know if they are dead or alive. Some families who reported a disappearance were themselves detained. This kind of terrorising of civilians must stop.”
“I call upon all parties to the conflict to forego violence for diplomacy to achieve a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis, and to put an end to the bloodshed and suffering of all Syrians,” Pillay said.
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