Civil movements in support of detainees’ cases before Brussels Conference

A silent stand in respect for "Families for Freedom" 2017 - (Detainees’ Voice Facebook page)

A silent stand in respect for "Families for Freedom" 2017 - (Detainees’ Voice Facebook page)


In order to prompt the resolution of the Syrian detainees’ issue before the third Brussels Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region, a number of Syrian survivors from the regime’s prisons and the families of the forcibly disappeared people sent a letter to the organizers of the conference, which will be held from 12 to 14 March in the Belgian capital Brussels.

The letter has been addressed in particular to EU High Representative for Security and Foreign Policy Federica Mogherini and the new UN Special Envoy to Syria Geir Pedersen.

The letter calls to pressure al-Assad’s regime, Russia, and all the involved parties in the Syrian conflict to disclose the fate of hundreds of thousands of missing people, support the investigation to document and identify all the missing Syrian persons, to identify the fate of the victims, and support the role of the Syrian survivors and families of the disappeared in any step related to the peace process in Syria.

The letter also stressed the need to suspend all reconstruction efforts until illegal arrests and enforced disappearances are stopped. It also highlighted the need to support all efforts to hold the perpetrators of torture and abuse against the detainees in Syria accountable.


Civil society organizations help the detainees’ families

Salma Kahala, the executive director of Dawlaty Organization, spoke to Enab Baladi about the content of this message and the expected impact of its release, in addition to some steps taken to solve the detainees’ issue.

Kahala explained that Dawlaty organization, in cooperation with the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) and the Syria Campaign, supports four groups of former detainees and families of forcibly disappeared or incarcerated persons in order to help them communicate their demands to the organizers of the Brussels Conference.

She pointed out that the Brussels conference is one of the main opportunities for voicing the demands of Syrian citizens to the international community to push for a common position on the issues of the detainees and forcibly disappeared people, foreground and prioritize accountability, and stress the importance of unveiling the truth internationally. She also emphasized the vitality of demanding the international community to play a greater role in resolving and addressing these problems.

Kahala indicated that this year’s participation in the conference, will be an attempt to take advantage of the lessons deduced from the past, namely not to rely on the methods put forth by the international community regarding the participation of Syrians in the conference, such as attending a closed meeting with groups that may not share the same values, or granting the Syrian participators the possibility to express their opinion only through the use of one paper as a way of negotiation.

This year’s participation will focus on influencing the agenda of the conference before it starts in order to ensure the participation of groups that share the same values and objectives. Thus, there is an attempt to support the groups of victims and the families of former detainees so that they can push this issue forward and ensure its presence in the agenda of the conference without the need to wait for the launch of the conference to fulfill such goals.

In this letter, the four groups suggested that the international community and especially the European Union must play a more significant role and exert greater diplomatic pressures to support the issue of the detainees in the UN Security Council and draw the attention of the new UN Special envoy to Syria, Geir Pedersen, to it.

In addition, the groups demanded the establishment of mechanisms to identify the whereabouts of the forcibly disappeared persons, and called upon the international community and European countries, in particular, to provide the required resources in addition to political will in order to support the process of holding the perpetrators of torture and abuse against the detainees in Syria accountable. This could be achieved either through the efforts of some states that may try the violators in national courts, or through the support of mechanisms such as the “independent international neutral mechanism”.

Kahala referred to a number of subsequent activities which are currently under way to emphasize the demands mentioned in the letter, including organizing a trip to Brussels with the families, victims, and partners in order to meet with the decision makers, i.e. ministers and representatives of the European Union in addition to the European Parliament.

The trip will be held in February, before the start of the conference, with the aim of convincing the decision-makers to prioritize the issue of the detainees and accountability at the conference.

In addition to that, the victims’ delegation will try to enhance the international community’s willingness to advocate and voice the demands of the detainees, forcibly disappeared persons, and their families at the conference, in addition to increasing media coverage outside the conference.

The issue of the detainees remained the subject of controversy in international talks and conferences seeking a political solution in Syria, amid demands to neutralize and exclude the problematic from any political settlements. Still, this file did not make any progress on the ground.

No international body has been able to hold accountable those responsible for torture, despite thousands of violations documented by local and international human rights organizations.

The detainees, incarcerated in Syrian prisons and security branches, are subjected to torture methods that are described as “brutal”, causing death or chronic diseases, along with deprivation of food, medicine, and treatment.

Amid the absence of official statistics, the Syrian Network or Human Rights documented the existence of 118,000 Syrian detainees, who have been identified by their names. However, it is estimated that the number is more than 215,000. Thus, 99 percent of these prisoners are detained in the Syrian regime’s prisons.

It is noted that a regular conference on supporting the future of Syria and the region has been held in Brussels, after being launched for the first time in April, 2017. As such, the second conference was organized in April 2018, during which financial donations were collected for Syria.

The third edition of the Brussels conference aims to raise $5 billion, which will be directed to ease the crises of the Syrian displaced and the refugees in neighboring countries of asylum, especially in Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan.

At the Brussels conference 2018, donors collected 3.6 billion Euros ($4.4 billion), with the participation of representatives from 86 countries as well as governmental and non-governmental organizations.

In a statement on the Brussels III Conference on “Supporting the future of Syria and the region”, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, confirmed that the European Union will continue to mobilize all the political and humanitarian instruments available in order to support the Syrian people and finally reach a negotiated political solution that will help create the right conditions for a brighter future for all Syrians.

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