President Barack Obama has said that strong, successful countries require strong and vibrant civil societies:
“Human progress has been propelled not just by famous leaders, not just by states, but…by citizens who are willing to stand up against incredible odds and great danger, not only to protect their own rights but to extend rights to others.”
Syrian civil society activists and human rights defenders Razan Zaitouneh, her husband Wael Hamada, and her two colleagues, Samira Al-Khalil and Nazem Hamadi were four such citizens. As a passionate Syrian leader and one of the founders of the Violations Documentation Center and Local Coordinating Committees, Razan played a critical role in documenting human rights violations and risked her life to advocate on behalf of political prisoners. A supporter of peaceful democratic reform and nonviolent civil resistance, she chose to stay in Syria after President Bashar al Assad turned guns and tanks on peaceful anti-government protesters in 2011 and after the regime formally denounced her. Razan Zaitouneh detailed human rights abuses and the atrocities occurring in Syria.
In 2013 Ms. Zaitouneh, her husband and two colleagues from the Center joined the ranks of the more than 10,000 people in Syria who have been forcibly disappeared since the conflict began. The four rights activists, now known as the Douma 4, were abducted from their office in Douma, a suburb of Damascus, in December 2013. Their whereabouts remain unknown, and no individual or group has claimed responsibility for their disappearance.
On December 9, U.S. State Department Spokesperson John Kirby published a statement marking the two-year anniversary of their abduction. He called for the immediate release of the four activists and urged “anyone with information about them to come forward to help ensure the safe return of these brave human rights defenders.”
“We recognize Razan and the thousands of Syrian political prisoners and human rights activists who have defied brutality and oppression and fought for a democratic and pluralistic future,” said Mr. Kirby. “We stand with these courageous Syrians and reiterate our call that those responsible for serious human rights violations and abuses in Syria must be held accountable.”