October 12, 2023

Support Syrian families: Assad regime on trial in The Hague

This is a message from Mariam Alhallak, founder of Caesar Families Association, who was in the Hague for a landmark court case against the Syrian regime

This week I stood outside the International Court of Justice, the top UN court, holding a photo of my son Dr. Ayham Ghazoul alongside dozens of other Syrian mothers, families of detainees, and survivors of torture demanding justice. We’re here because for the first time, the Syrian regime is in court for the ongoing mass torture of tens of thousands of Syrians.

My son Ayham was tortured to death just five days after he was abducted by the regime in November 2012. I held his picture as a way to say directly to Bashar al-Assad: “This young man is my son whom you kidnapped from the University of Damascus, and killed.”

Outside the International Court of Justice at the start of the landmark trial

Outside the International Court of Justice at the start of the landmark trial

There is more than enough evidence of the regime’s crimes against humanity, despite its attempts to destroy it. To this day, the regime still arbitrarily arrests and tortures men, women and children, spreading fear throughout Syrian society. Tens of thousands of people have been killed and reports of sexual violence in detention are increasing.

I address this trial and the world with a message that so many Syrian mothers carry: put pressure on the regime to release all detainees, because we want them alive. In most cases of arrest or enforced disappearance, torture leads to death. It is too late for my son but nearly 136,000 remain forcibly disappeared in Syria in inhumane conditions and we must fight for them.

My son’s death was confirmed when I identified him among the many shocking photos documenting victims of torture in regime prisons, which were smuggled out by regime defector ‘Caesar’. Since that day, I have been calling for a grave for my son and I founded the Caesar Families Association to support families like mine from all across Syria.

Any ruling from the International Court of Justice is further evidence against the regime’s crimes and sets an important precedent in the pursuit of justice. We need this now more than ever to stop the ongoing practice of torture and arbitrary detention and to end the destruction of crucial evidence.

We need information about all those detained so families no longer live with the constant uncertainty of not knowing what has happened to their loved ones. There is an urgent need to access the regime’s overcrowded dungeons to find them and provide medical care, food, and water. Their survival is at stake.

This hearing matters, but what we really need is to hold senior members of the regime accountable for their crimes against humanity. I carried my son’s photo today to make sure the world is in no doubt that Syrian youth are being killed under mass torture. Please continue to stand with Syrian families and support our efforts until we do finally hold the regime accountable.

Watch this video and hear directly from more families of detainees and survivors of torture about what this trial means to them – then share their messages widely