Middle East

World pauses to remember thousands of Syria’s missing

Residents walk in Jobar, a suburb of Damascus, which activists claim has been undergoing violent clashes between forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and rebel fighters August 31, 2014. REUTERS/Badra Mamet

BEIRUT: Politicians and human rights groups marked the International Day of the Disappeared Saturday, calling on the world to remember the tens of thousands of people missing in Syria, languishing in government jails or held by rebel groups.

The precise number of people missing since the start of the war is unknown, but the Syrian Network for Human Rights has estimated that at least 85,000 people have been detained by the regime.

And local activist groups say thousands are also missing in rebel-held areas, particularly in the cities of Raqqa and Aleppo.

In February, a U.N. Security Council Resolution demanded an end to enforced disappearances but a “relentless campaign of intimidation against dissidents” continues, Amnesty International said.

“Countless perceived opponents of the Syrian government – including activists, journalists, medics and lawyers – are routinely plucked off the street or seized from their homes only to disappear into a virtual black hole,” the group said in a statement.

Free Syria’s Silenced Voices, a group campaigning for the missing, said detainees were often imprisoned for crimes such as for publishing studies on human rights or working with opposition media, and that families were left “in anguish or despair.” Nora al-Ameer, vice president of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, said the practice of summing up the issue of the missing as a mere figure was “shameful and unacceptable.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry mentioned Syria’s missing a statement release to mark the global event. “In Syria, thousands have disappeared at the hands of the Assad government. Violent extremist groups such as [ISIS] are ruthlessly targeting and disappearing innocent civilians in Syria and Iraq,” he said.

A campaign on twitter, #WhereAreThey?, was one of several moves by activists to raise awareness about the issue over the weekend.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 01, 2014, on page 8.




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