BEIRUT: A senior U.N. official told the family of former Syrian Vice President Shibli Aisamy Friday that the case of the leading Syrian dissident, who has been missing since May last year, has been referred to the highest international judicial authority.
A delegation from the Aisamy family met with interim United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon Robert Watkins at the U.N. headquarters in Yarze, as part of their ongoing moves to determine Aisamy’s whereabouts more than eight months after he was kidnapped in front of his house in Aley, Mount Lebanon.
Watkins told the family that the Aisamy case has been referred to the “highest international judicial authority,” the state-run National News Agency reported.
The family’s delegation said that the U.N. Human Rights Committee was “following up details linked to Aisamy’s kidnapping with a view to pressuring the Syrian regime to uncover his fate and release him quickly.”
Aisamy, who fled Syria in 1966 over political differences with then-President Hafez Assad, was abducted in May in Aley, minutes after leaving his daughter’s home for a walk.
The Aisamy family handed Watkins a letter addressedto U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urging the U.N. chief to intervene immediately to secure the release of “our father, who is 88 years old and whose health condition is deteriorating.”
The letter pointed out that all local efforts made to determine Aisamy’s whereabouts have led nowhere.
It said that Aisamy, who was kidnapped in Aley on May 24, had arrived from Washington with his wife to visit their daughter.
“Shibli Aisamy is one of the founders of the Baath Party (1947-92), a former Syrian vice president and a leading Syrian politician. He held several official posts in the Syrian government between 1950 and 1960, including the Education Ministry and the Agriculture Ministry,” the letter said.
It also quoted Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, director general of the Internal Security Forces, telling a human rights committee in the Lebanese Parliament that Aisamy was kidnapped by intelligence agents under the cover of the Syrian Embassy in Beirut.
Addressing Ban, the letter said: “Our family needs your help. We believe that you will do your best to save him. We thank you for adopting our case and for your defense of justice and human rights.”
Aisamy’s daughter, Rajaa Sharafeddine, has rejected comments suggesting that her father had been killed, saying the family had received confirmation that their father in Syria.
Sharafeddine told The Daily Star in November, “We have received confirmation from a number of sources that my father was kidnapped in Lebanon and taken to Syria where he is being held.” She was responding to comments made by Baath Party official and Baalbek-Hermel MP Assem Qanso in which he said it “is not unlikely” that Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and Aley MP Akram Shehayeb “oversaw the liquidation of Aisamy.”
Meanwhile, a joint delegation from the March 14 secretariat general and the Association of Lebanese Prisoners in Syrian jails met Watkins Friday and handed him a memorandum calling for U.N. action to determine the fate of Lebanese held in Syrian prisons, a U.N. source told The Daily Star. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Addressed to Ban, the memo urged the U.N. chief to intervene along with the Arab League, and observers currently in Syria to follow up the case of Lebanese detainees while they inspect prisons there.
“The continued detention of Lebanese in Syrian prisons is an international crime that falls within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court,” the memo said.
Lebanese nongovernmental organizations say they have the names of 545 people who went missing and are now believed to be in Syrian prisons, all of them victims of forced disappearance during the 1975-90 Civil War.
Separately, Watkins discussed with Hezbollah official Ammar Musawi the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 that calls for a cessation of hostilities between Lebanon and Israel following the 34-day devastating war between the Jewish state and Hezbollah in the summer of 2006.
“We had a very good discussion about the situation in Lebanon, particularly related to the implementation of Resolution 1701,” Watkins said in a statement released following the meeting with Musawi, head of Hezbollah’s International Relations Department.
“We discussed the areas where 1701 has worked very well so far,” added Watkins, “including the relative stability that has prevailed in south Lebanon, but also the requirements of 1701 that still have to be met in order to be able to move from the current cessation of hostilities to a permanent ceasefire.”
Watkins said he briefed Musawi on Ban’s visit to Lebanon, and the preparations for the U.N.’s next report on the implementation of Resolution 1701.
“I told Mr. Musawi that the secretary-general expressed his expectation in all his meetings that Lebanon would continue to meet all its international obligations under all relevant Security Council resolutions,” Watkins said.
He said that talks also tackled developments in the region.
“I reiterated the U.N.’s hope that Lebanon would continue to seek to safeguard its stability and security, particularly in light of the developments taking place in the surrounding Arab world,” Watkins said.