Middle East

Activist group: At least 28,000 abducted in Syria

Demonstrators hold opposition flags during a protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in Erbeen near Damascus October 15, 2012. (REUTERS/Shaam News Network/HO)

BEIRUT: At least 28,000 Syrians have gone missing after being abducted by forces loyal to President Bashar Assad during the 19-month-old revolt, activist group Avaaz said Thursday.

Quoting statements from Syrian human rights lawyers and families of the missing, Avaaz said security forces had set out to terrorize communities by grabbing people off the street and torturing them.

Other rights groups have also accused Syrian rebel groups of abducting people they deem pro-government.

Video footage accompanying the Avaaz statement showed soldiers stopping a man and a woman, forcing them to the ground and dragging them away.

The film also showed an interview with a man saying his wife had been taken six months ago in the Baba Amr district of Homs, which has been partly leveled by government bombardment.

“I lived my whole life with her,” said the middle-aged man with his back to the camera, taking a long sigh and trembling.

“She disappeared. I have no hope. We searched everywhere for her. My children always ask me ‘Where’s Mum?’” he said.

One Syrian-based human rights organization involved in the research for the report, Sawasya, said up to 80,000 people had disappeared, added Avaaz, a campaign network that aids opposition activists in Syria alongside other causes worldwide.

The groups’ figures could not be verified independently.

Another Syrian man interviewed by Avaaz, Yousef, said his sister was abducted in Baba Amr six months ago.

“If I know someone who was killed, I resign to God that they are dead. If I know someone who is injured, I still have hope they might heal,” he said. “But the unknown ... the only word that expresses it is ‘unknown.’”

The sister of anti-regime protester Anas al-Shaghuri, 23, said he went missing in the coastal city of Banias in May last year and was reportedly handed over to security forces by someone he trusted.

Fellow prisoners told his family he was tortured, Avaaz reported.

Avaaz said it would hand over the reports of the abductions to the United Nations Human Rights Council, saying the abductions amounted to “enforced disappearances.”

Such abductions, where a state refuses to acknowledge a person has been taken, are seen as a crime against humanity under international law.

Under the United Nations Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances, “enforced disappearance” is considered to be “the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the state or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the state, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person.”

In a statement accompanying the report, Avaaz Campaign Director Alice Jay said: “Syrians are being plucked off the street by Syrian security forces and paramilitaries and being ‘disappeared’ into torture cells.”

“Whether it is women buying groceries or farmers going for fuel, nobody is safe ... The fate of each and every one of these people must be investigated and the perpetrators punished.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 19, 2012, on page 8.




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