According to Human Rights Watch, a person is considered to have disappeared when he or she is last seen in the custody of government forces, but state authorities refuse to admit they have detained the person or to offer any information of the detainee’s fate.
And that is what has been happening in Syria since the uprising began in early 2011. Thousands of people have disappeared into government prisons, and most of them were never heard from again. Yet despite repeated requests for information by families of the disappeared, Syrian authorities consistently denied having any knowledge of those detained or those who were last seen in their custody.
Until May of this year, that is. That’s when Syrian authorities began to update civil registries, indicating that thousands of people detained or disappeared since 2011 have died. Frequently, the cause of death is listed as a heart attack.
“The Syrian regime’s recent notices confirming the deaths of thousands of political prisoners in its custody affirms what the international community has long suspected and can never forget: the regime has systematically arrested, tortured, and murdered tens of thousands of Syrian civilians in response to their legitimate and nonviolent calls for their freedom, rights, and political reforms,” said State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert in a written statement.
Human Rights organizations report that at least 117,000 Syrians have been detained or forcibly disappeared since the uprising began, she said.“The vast majority of them are believed to be in regime custody, across a network of prisons where regime officials torture and murder civilians to intimidate and silence any opposition to Assad’s rule. Extensive documentation and other evidence of this torture and murder is being collected by international organizations, and support the world’s continued condemnation of the Syrian regime and prosecution of culpable officials in various courts,” said Heather Nauert.
“The United States strongly reiterates its condemnation of the Assad regime’s cruel actions and calls on it to adhere to international laws and norms pertaining to the treatment of prisoners, including by allowing access for independent monitors. We will continue to work with the international community to investigate and shed light on these nefarious activities and work to hold those responsible accountable.”