Syria Urged to End Enforced Disappearances

Press Release

Syria Urged to End Enforced Disappearances

Amnesty International Commemorates International Day of the Disappeared with Spotlight on Disappeared Syrian Activists

Contact: Carolyn Lang, clang@aiusa.org, 202-675-8759

(Washington, DC) -- Amnesty International will commemorate the Day of the Disappeared on August 30, 2012 by shining a light on victims of enforced disappearances globally. Amnesty International has documented cases of disappearances in every continent and has ongoing work on these violations in the Americas, the Balkans, Algeria, Indonesia, Libya, Mauritania, Mali, Pakistan, Russia and Sri Lanka, among other countries and regions.

“We’re calling on governments across the world to denounce enforced disappearances, which are crimes under international law, and to join the global treaty to end their use. Justice must be delivered once and for all to the many thousands of disappeared people and their families,” said Marek Marczyński, Amnesty International's International Justice Research, Policy and Campaign manager.

For decades, enforced disappearances have been the hallmark of the Syrian regime, used as a means to target thousands of activists and dissidents while keeping their families in a state of despair and fear.

“Since the beginning of the uprising in Syria we’ve seen a dramatic rise in the authorities’ use of enforced disappearances to silence opposition and sow fear among the friends and relatives of the disappeared,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa deputy director at Amnesty International.

“But the use of this devastating practice – in Syria and in other countries and regions around the world – goes back decades.”

For more than a year, 67-year-old Abd al-Akram al-Sakka has been missing in Syria, in what amounts to an enforced disappearance. Despite desperate pleas from the elderly imam’s relatives, the Syrian authorities have not revealed any information about his whereabouts or the conditions of his detention.

The imam’s son-in-law Haytham Al Hamwi – who now lives in exile – recently told Amnesty International about his family’s anguish and the lack of information around al-Sakka’s disappearance since the Syrian uprising began in early 2011.

“Disappearance means that you don’t know anything about them, and even if you know anything – you are always worried that this information is not OK,” said Al Hamwisaid.

Last September, the Syrian authorities also detained his father Muhammad Yassin Al Hamwi, a shopkeeper, and his brother Muhammad Muhammad Al Hamwi in conditions amounting to enforced disappearance.They were held incommunicado for five and six months, respectively, before being released earlier this year. During that time, their family did not know whether they were dead or alive. No charges were brought against them, but it is believed they were arrested for taking part in anti-government protests.

As Haytham Al Hamwi has also been a prisoner of conscience in a Syrian jail – he was locked up for two and a half years after taking part in a peaceful political protest in 2003 – he is only too familiar with the kind of conditions faced by his disappeared relatives. Overcrowding and other poor conditions in detention can contribute to existing health problems – and torture is rife during interrogations.

“The most difficult time in these circumstances in prison is in the first week, because they torture people usually in the first week when they…interrogate…them,” Haytham Al Hamwi said.

A global problem

Enforced disappearances are still carried out in many countries around the world. Although it is a crime under international law, all too often those suspected of criminal responsibility are never brought to justice.

In an attempt to end this practice, in December 2006 the United Nations adopted the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The Convention aims to prevent disappearances, uncover the truth when they do occur, punish the perpetrators and provide reparations to the victims and their families.On August 30, 2011 the UN marked the first International Day for the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, which shines a spotlight on the ongoing use of the practice and its many victims worldwide.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.