For 12 years that the war has been raging in Syria, with its share of misery and drama, senior United Nations officials have estimated that for the Syrians, knowing the fate of the 100,000 missing people is crucial for reconciliation.
Thus, for Volker Türk, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, “it is impossible to establish with certainty how many people have disappeared in Syria. The figure of 100,000 is often quoted, the real number could well be much more”.
“What is certain is that families on all sides of this conflict have been devastated. They want to know what happened to their loved ones. I stand here before you to amplify their voices,” he said during an interactive dialogue at the UN General Assembly on the plight of missing persons in Syria.
And Volker Türk to insist: “It is their right to know the truth. The children grow up with a gaping absence where their father should be. Wives, mothers and sisters struggle to provide for their families. Without proper documentation, they have no property rights; they may not even be able to travel with their children or even send them to school. There is also the stigma: the fear that associating with the family of a missing person could cause even more violence in the community”.
For his part, the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, underlined that “Syrians deserve a measure of hope for the future. They deserve peace and security. And they deserve to know the truth about the fate of their loved ones. Justice demands it – peace and reconciliation depend on it”.
In all regions of the country and in all communities, “loved ones are missing, including family members who have been victims of enforced disappearance, abduction, torture and arbitrary detention”, he added.
The majority of the missing are men – leaving women alone to provide for their families in difficult conditions, while undertaking the search for their sons, husbands, brothers or fathers.
“We must work to resolve this deeply painful situation with determination and urgency,” said Guterres, who praised “the courageous work” of Syrian associations of families, victims and survivors and other groups in society. civil society – as well as the efforts of many international bodies – to chart the way forward.
He also recalled having proposed in a report last August the framework for a solution, providing in particular for the creation by the General Assembly of a new international institution responsible for clarifying the fate of missing persons and providing support to the victims and their families.
“I urge all Member States to act – and I call on the Syrian government and all parties to the conflict to cooperate. It is essential to help Syrians heal – and to remove an obstacle to achieving a lasting peace,” he said.
The same request was made by the High Commissioner for Human Rights to the General Assembly, through “the creation of a new institution which will contribute to providing answers and support to all the families of the thousands of disappeared and survivors – bringing clarity to what happened to all of this wounded and exhausted population, and offering practical support and assistance to those who desperately need it.”
Volker Türk noted that several key guiding principles for this institution were highlighted by those consulted: the new institution should be victim- and survivor-centred, it should emphasize gender sensitivity, it should be inclusive and operate without discrimination, it must be guided, in all search activities, by the presumption that the missing person is alive and in urgent need of assistance, and it must be guided by the principle of doing no harm in its operations.
The human rights chief mentioned the parameters of such an institution. According to him, it must cover all persons reported missing in connection with Syria, regardless of their location or nationality; it must be based in a place where survivors and families feel safe; it must be transparent and fully rooted in human rights.
“There will be no lasting peace in Syria without progress on these fundamental issues for families, communities and society as a whole. The pain, loss and injustice are just too great,” he pleaded.