US pushes Assad for answers on Syria’s ‘disappeared’

Damascus should reveal whereabouts of tens of thousands of missing doctors, activists and others, Washington envoy says

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 17, 2020, an elderly displaced Syrian woman carries a child in the Washukanni Camp for the internally displaced people near the predominantly Kurdish city of Hasakeh in northeastern Syria.  / AFP / Delil SOULEIMAN
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The US on Tuesday pressed the government of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad to come clean about the “tens of thousands” of opponents in prisons, where they face torture, sexual violence and inhuman conditions.

Washington’s envoy to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said the Syrian government detained “tens of thousands” of doctors, journalists, activists and others during a decade-long crackdown.

Ms Thomas-Greenfield demanded details of their whereabouts.

On March 15, Syrians will mark the 10th anniversary of the start of the uprising against Mr Al Assad, which quickly turned into a civil war between government loyalists, rebels, extremists and foreign forces.

“At least 14,000 Syrians have reportedly been tortured and tens of thousands forcibly disappeared,” Ms Thomas-Greenfield told a UN General Assembly meeting.

“We demand that the status of all those detained be made public and we demand that the bodies of the deceased be returned to their loved ones with the time, place and cause of death.”

Many of those in regime lockups are at “grave risk of being exposed” to the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed at least 1,000 lives in Syria, she said.

In a report on Monday, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria said tens of thousands of civilians had been "arbitrarily detained" and that the fate of many remained unknown.

The more than 30-page document, which is based on thousands of interviews about more than 100 detentions, said Syria’s government committed "war crimes and crimes against humanity”.

Thousands more have been subjected to torture and sexual violence, offences that can amount to war crimes, the report by the UN commission said.

Other armed groups in Syria had committed similar crimes, it said.

“It is far past time to finally put Syrians first, and expend every effort to support a peaceful, negotiated resolution to the conflict and to help place Syria on a path toward a stable, prosperous and just future," the commission's chairman, Paulo Pinheiro, said on Tuesday.

“Though justice delayed is justice denied, justice must come, and it must come in all its forms.

"Victims’ demands for justice and accountability are a central component of any durable peace.”

Millions of people have left Syria and millions more are internally displaced since a crackdown by the government on protesters in March 2011 led to a civil war that has dragged in Russia, Iran, Turkey, the US and others.