As heavy fighting continued across Syria on Thursday, an international advocacy
group released testimonies from families who said their relatives have been
forcibly “disappeared” by the Assad regime.
President Bashar Assad’s
forces have disappeared tens of thousands of Syrians since the conflict began 19
months ago, global citizen activist group Avaaz said.
disappearances are a deliberate tactic to silence dissent by terrorizing
families opposed to the regime, the NGO said.
“Syrians are being plucked
off the street by Syrian security forces and paramilitaries and being
‘disappeared’ into torture cells,” said Alice Jay, Avaaz’s campaign
Human rights lawyers and research groups in Syria have given a range of estimates on the number of people forcibly disappeared since
fighting began last March.
The Syrian Network for Human Rights says that
at least 28,000 people have vanished, while Muhannad al- Hasani of the Sawasya
human rights organization said there could be as many as 80,000
“People are being snatched at night, on the street and
when no one is looking,” Hasani said.
Among Avaaz’s testimonies is a
report from the sister of Anas al-Shaghri, a 23-year-old man who disappeared
from a rural area of Banyas in May 2011, shortly after protests
Shaghri was a nonviolent protester and an active media spokesman
in Banyas, which made the security forces and Shabiha [an Alawite civilian
militia loyal to Assad] resentful, his sister said.
arrest, an informer told the young man’s family that he was held in solitary
confinement and had been subjected to severe torture.
“This left me in a
state of fear and horror over my brother to the point where I cried every day
just imagining what could have happened to him,” Shaghri’s sister said, adding
that security forces would not provide information about the young
“Every time we ask about Anas they deny that he was detained in one
of their security branches. We hired a lawyer for this matter but to no avail,”
Shaghri’s sister testified.
Avaaz’s Jay said the organization planned to
hand over the names of disappeared Syrians to the UN Human Rights Council and to
UN/Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.
“The panic of not knowing whether
your husband or child is alive breeds such fear that it silences dissent,” Jay
added. “The fate of each and every one of these people must be investigated and
the perpetrators punished.”
Brahimi told reporters on Thursday that he
planned to go to Damascus within the next few days to attempt to broker a
Brahmi said that a brief truce could build
confidence and help broker a longer ceasefire.
“Yes I am going to
This appeal we made to our Syrian brothers, whether in the
government or against the government, to stop fighting in the three or four days
of the Id [holiday] next week,” Brahimi said after meeting with Jordan’s foreign
The truce would be selfimposed with no monitoring.
is an appeal to the Syrians themselves that they stop fighting and observe it
This is not the political process or the solution required to
the Syrian crisis,” Brahimi added.
The Syrian government guardedly
welcomed the proposal but said any initiative must be respected by both sides.
Turkey, one of Assad’s harshest critics, and Iran, one of his strongest allies,
both backed the plan, in a rare display of agreement.
Brahimi will meet
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al- Moualem on Saturday, an official in Damascus
Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said Damascus
hoped his talks in the region, including with countries that back the rebels,
could herald “something which leads to the success of a constructive
Syrian officials have questioned whether the rebels, who
agreed on a joint leadership on Tuesday to encourage supporters to provide them
with more powerful weapons, could commit to or honor any cease-fire
But Brahimi said on Wednesday that opposition figures had told him
any cease-fire by Assad’s forces would be immediately reciprocated.
heard from everyone we met in the opposition, and everyone [else] we met that,
if the government stops using violence, ‘We will respond to this directly,’” he
On Thursday, Brahimi’s spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said the envoy, a
veteran Algerian diplomat, was working on a new, comprehensive peace
“It’s difficult to put a timeline on it, but it’s all coming
together. He has completed the circle with this tour of neighboring countries.
He needs to go now to the outer circle, to Moscow and China, and look them in
the eye and say this will not work unless you support it,” Fawzi
Russia – which sold Syria arms worth $1 billion last year – and
China have vetoed three Security Council resolutions favored by Western powers
that would have condemned Syrian authorities and opened the way to UN sanctions
Meanwhile, government forces in Damascus shelled the
capital’s outlying suburbs on Thursday, while the pro-opposition Syrian
Observatory for Human Rights said dozens of people were wounded when warplanes
bombed the northern town of Maarat al-Numan, which straddles the main
north-south highway connecting Damascus with Aleppo and was captured by rebels
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay
said on Thursday that the situation in Syria was reminiscent of Bosnia’s 1992-95
sectarian war, and called on world powers to unite in trying to halt the
“The memories of what happened in Bosnia and Herzegovina
should be sufficiently fresh to warn us all of the danger of allowing Syria to
descend into an all-out sectarian conflict,” Pillay said.
“It should not
take something as drastic as Srebrenica to shake the world into taking serious
action to stop this type of conflict,” she told reporters.
The July 1995
massacre in Srebrenica was the worst on European soil since World War II. Dutch
UN peacekeepers abandoned what had been designated a UN safe haven to advancing
Bosnian Serb forces who then killed 8,000 Muslim men and boys and bulldozed
their corpses into pits.
Pillay, a former UN war crimes judge, said both
sides in the Syrian conflict may have committed war crimes or crimes against
“The indiscriminate use of heavy weaponry by government forces
to destroy large swathes of cities such as Homs and Aleppo is inexcusable, as is
the use of huge bombs by extremist opposition groups which kill and maim
civilians as well as military targets,” Pillay said.
More than 140
Syrians were killed on Wednesday, including 62 unarmed civilians, 12 of them
children, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. More than 33,000 people
have died since the violence began, the Observatory said.