PRESS RELEASE / June 29, 2023

UN vote to create an international institution for Syria’s disappeared a triumph for victim and family groups

In a landmark vote at the UN General Assembly today, member states passed a resolution to establish the world’s first independent, international institution dedicated to uncovering the fate and whereabouts of tens of thousands of forcibly disappeared people in Syria. 

Ten Syrian victim and family associations from the Truth and Justice Charter have been calling for this as a key means of addressing the fate of more than 100,000 people who remain forcibly disappeared or missing in Syria, the vast majority at the hands of the Assad regime, others disappeared by ISIS and various armed groups. 

Reacting to the news The Syria Campaign’s Executive Director Laila Kiki said: 

“Today’s landmark vote establishing an international institution to uncover the fate of Syria’s disappeared is a victory for each and every member of the victim and family groups who have campaigned relentlessly for their right to know the truth about their missing loved ones. After years of international inaction and indifference the process of piecing together the whereabouts of the disappeared can finally begin. 

“This outcome is a testament to the unfailing courage, tireless work and dedication of victim and family associations who instead of being crushed by the uncertainty and suffering they have endured, have come together demonstrating strength, hope and solidarity to advocate for their own cause with remarkable results. We are in awe of their bravery and all they have accomplished. 

“As more and more states seek to normalize ties with Assad this resolution sheds important light on his brutal regime’s use of systematic, mass enforced disappearance as a tool of oppression to maintain its grip on power and strike terror into the heart of Syrian society. Today’s outcome shows the people will not be silenced. 

“Establishing an international body for Syria’s disappeared is just a first step on the long road towards truth and justice for Syria. The struggle now begins to ensure that the institution is established swiftly, continues to place demands of victim and family groups at the center and is granted the power and resources needed to make a real difference.” 

Fadwa Mahmoud, co-founder of Families for Freedom, a women-led movement campaigning for the forcibly disappeared and detained, has been searching for answers about her son Maher Tahan, and her husband, Abdulaziz Al Khair, who have been forcibly disappeared by the Syrian regime since 2012. She said: 

“When my husband and son disappeared, a part of my heart went with them. For the past 10 years I have been painfully searching for answers and using every ounce of my strength to speak out loudly and ensure the world does not forget them. This has not been a fight for my family but for all Syrian families whose loved ones are forcibly disappeared. After years of silence from the international community, we finally have some concrete action, and I can finally let myself feel a glimmer of hope that we may one day get answers.” 

Yasmin Almashaan, founding member of Caesar Families Association, said: 

“Today’s outcome is a real triumph for us as victims and family associations, after all our efforts to demand our right to the truth. By voting in favour of the resolution today the international community have finally recognised the horrific suffering that families of tens of thousands of missing and forcibly disappeared in Syria have been forced to endure for years. We know that the process will take a long time and is not without challenges, but creating this institution is a crucial first step towards revealing the fate of our loved ones. Our work now begins to ensure victims and families continue to play a central role to ensure that once established the institution is effective.”

Ahmad Helmi, survivor of enforced disappearance and founder of Ta’afi, a survivor-led organization that aims to support and protect victims of detention, torture, and enforced disappearance, said: 

“Today’s vote is an important step that will ensure any resolution to the conflict in Syria does not overlook the fundamental right of families to know the fate of their loved ones. Establishing an institution for Syria’s disappeared is unprecedented in UN history, this will be the first international body working exclusively to search for answers about the disappeared and the first institution conceptualized and advocated for by survivors and families of victims, with their full participation.” 

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