20/9/2019: Enforced Disappearance in the Middle East: Facts and Consequences – A Symposium at the UNHRC

GENEVA, 20 September 2019 – A symposium entitled, “Enforced Disappearance in the Middle East: Facts and Consequences,” recently was held at the Human Rights Council in Geneva. It was organized by the African Organization for the Eradication of Poverty (ZPA) in partnership with the International League for Peace and Human Rights (ILPHR).

Professor Mehmet Sukru Guzel, United Nations Geneva Office Representative of the Juridical Commission for Development for the Andean First Nations (CAPAJ) based in Peru, spoke on the “System of Enforced Disappearances in the U.N. and the Missing Points.” He briefly explained the issue of enforced disappearance under international law, stressing that the basic reference for this type of human rights violation is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which makes all states–without exception–responsible and accountable for these types of violations, regardless of whether or not they have signed the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

Guzel stressed the need to focus on the role and responsibility of non-state armed groups in their areas of control and the need to hold them accountable for enforced disappearances in accordance with international anti-terrorism laws, adding that whoever supports and finances these groups likewise should be held accountable for financing terrorism. Additionally, he called on the Human Rights Council to hold hearings dedicated to enforced disappearances committed by these groups and to issue resolutions classifying those found guilty as terrorist organizations.

For his part, Ali Al-Haj Al-Hamdani, a human rights activist and vice president of the Arab Cultural Forum in Britain, discussed the reality of enforced disappearance in Syria during the course of the current war. In his paper, “Enforced Disappearance in Syria: An Insight into the Current Calamity,” he points to the widespread phenomenon of abduction and disappearance of people in Syria, wherein the regime arrests wanted persons without warrants and then detains them anonymously. Such individuals are not allowed to see a lawyer and their families do not know where they are being held. “Usually, once detainees are in prison, they are given numbers and their names are never circulated,” Al-Hamdani explained.

“Due to the flight of large numbers of Syrian Army soldiers, the [Syrian] regime brought in external forces such as Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards, Lebanese Hezbollah and other Iranian militias to carry out arrests and harassment,” Al-Hamdani said, adding that such detainees typically are subjected to the most severe forms of torture, including starvation, beatings, dragging, electrocution, and rape.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Al-Hamdani cited, there are some 104,000 enforcedly disappeared detainees, whereas according to Human Rights Watch, there were 117,000 detainees as of 2017. Syrian human rights activists are likely to double the number in President Bashar al-Assad’s prisons alone.

Al-Hamdani noted that it is impossible to know the number of those abducted and forcibly disappeared by extremist groups, pointing out that the latest reports indicate that since the beginning of this year through the end of August, the number of detainees held by Al-Nusra Front is around 182, including writers and media activists.

In his paper, “Ahwazi Arabs: Decades of Continuous Suffering,” Hakim Chohbishat, chairman of the Ahwazi Organization for Protecting Human Rights, enumerated human rights violations against Arab peoples living in Iran. He asserts that over the past nine decades, Iranian regimes have carried out numerous arrests and the enforced disappearance of Ahwazi detainees without giving any information about them to their relatives or anyone else.

He noted that such indiscriminate arrests by the Iranian regime against Ahwazis are a form of enforced disappearance, as they are carried out by unidentified entities which also torture detainees during detention and deny their presence there. He added that detainees under torture often are forced to confess to false accusations and psychological pressure is systematically used on their families.

Chohbishat pointed out that those who have suffered enforced disappearance by the Iranian regime are from all social and professional groups, including artists, teachers, scientists, and researchers, adding that the feeling of frustration and injustice leads many Ahwazi Arabs to commit suicide or accept death sentences with pride. He ended his talk by calling on Iranian authorities to disclose the whereabouts of all Ahwazi detainees and for the international community to put pressure on Iran to do so.