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UN Syria Commission of Inquiry: Member States must seize moment to establish mechanism for missing persons

17 June 2022

Geneva (17 June 2022). “Member States must act now on behalf of the millions who are looking for their missing loved ones in Syria,” Paulo Pinheiro, Chair of the UN Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, said today as the Commission released its paper “Syria’s Missing and Disappeared: Is there a Way Forward?”, containing its recommendations for a mechanism with an international mandate.

The UN Secretary-General will soon publish a study, requested in UN General Assembly resolution 76/228, on how to bolster efforts to clarify the fate and whereabouts of missing people in Syria, to identify human remains and provide support to their families.

“There is much that can be done to support victims and survivors in this search and families have waited too long already”, Mr. Pinheiro said, adding that “this issue gravely impacts people across the political and geographic spectrum in Syria and the upcoming report of the Secretary-General must lead to concrete action, without further delay.”

More than a decade into the Syrian conflict, at least 100,000 people are estimated to be missing or to have been disappeared by parties to the conflict - Government forces and non-State armed groups. Their whereabouts and fate remain unknown to date, leaving families suffering in limbo and detainees cut off from the outside world. The Commission has long advocated for a body to consolidate claims filed with a wide variety of non-governmental and humanitarian organizations so as to efficiently and effectively track and identify those missing and disappeared and to assist their families. Family, victim, and survivor participation must be central to its functioning.

“Such a mechanism must ensure the participation of the families of missing persons in Syria, and be accessible to them, regardless of where they reside or actual or perceived links or affiliations. They are also victims, and the mechanism should amplify their voices as they seek information,” Commissioner Hanny Megally emphasized. “An effective mechanism is needed as soon as possible. Experience globally shows that the longer it takes to establish such a mechanism, the more difficult it will be to ever clarify the fate and whereabouts of missing persons and disappeared,” Megally pointed out.

A mechanism could also coordinate overtures to parties to the conflict to offer technical assistance and advice regarding detainees and other missing persons and their remains, including those found in mass graves, which meanwhile must be protected.

“Families’ search for loved ones in Syria is fraught with danger of being arrested, extorted and abused. Last month, thousands waited in pain and in vain in the streets of Damascus hoping to find their loved ones alive, after the announcement of the Government’s most recent amnesty. Others watched agonizing videos of murders to discover if they were killed, after the recent release of the video allegedly showing summary executions of civilians in Tadamon in 2013”, Commissioner Lynn Welchman said, adding that “the Government and other parties are deliberately prolonging the suffering of hundreds of thousands of family members by withholding information on the fate of those missing or disappeared. This must not be a reason for resignation but a call to action.” 

The Commission remains ready to support the functioning of such a mechanism with the considerable amounts of information it has gathered since 2011 on human rights violations in detention, and reiterates the urgency of the matter for all involved.


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