UN chief pushes for creation of investigative body to uncover fate of Syria's disappeared

New independent body would investigate victims and survivors reported missing since start of war in 2011

Syrian campaigner Wafa Mustafa holds a picture of her missing father. AFP
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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday urged world leaders to back the establishment of an international body to uncover the fate of Syria’s disappeared, who have been missing since the start of the civil war in 2011.

“People in every part of the country and across all divides have loved ones who are missing, including family members who were forcibly disappeared, abducted, tortured and arbitrarily detained,” Mr Guterres told the 193 member states at an informal meeting on Tuesday.

He said the whereabouts of about 100,000 Syrians, mainly men, “remains unknown".

“The Syrian people deserve a measure of hope for the future," Mr Guterres said. "They deserve peace and security and they deserve to know the truth about the fate of their loved ones."

Syrian families have been calling for an investigative body for more than a decade, while organisations for the forcibly disappeared have worked with limited resources to collect information on the missing.

Volker Turk, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said decisive steps by the international community were needed to clarify the fates of missing people, and to “pursue the release of those who continue to be detained".

"Families on every side of this conflict want to know what has happened to their loved ones," Mr Turk said. "I stand here before you to amplify their voices."

He said a new body would be centred on victims and survivors, operate without discrimination and remain impartial.

Mr Turk said the goal ultimately must be for this institution to “become Syrian".

Mr Guterres called on Syrian authorities and all parties to the conflict to co-operate.

The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria report in October 2022 said evidence indicated that the Syrian government was “aware of and meticulously registers information about those it has detained”.

But rather than investigate the crimes committed in its detention facilities, the regime “continues to withhold information from family members, as do other parties to the conflict", stated the report.

Updated: March 28, 2023, 10:44 PM