Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in March 2011, detention and forced “disappearances” have occurred on a daily, and increasing, basis. Exacerbating the situation is the fact that a variety of parties rule different areas of Syria. The regime of Bashar al-Assad holds the greatest number of arbitrarily detained people, accounting for 96 percent of forced disappearances. The remainder are the responsibility of ISIS, the Kurd Self-Management Forces and other armed opposition groups.

Forced disappearance is a tragedy for both those captured and held alive for days, weeks or years, and their families. The victims are kidnapped from either their homes or the streets. Sometimes the crime is carried out by people in military uniform, and no matter what they wear, they universally refuse to divulge who they are or the basis for their actions.  The various parties involved in the civil strife often deny possession of the victims.

In the second article of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from forced Disappearance, the crime is defined to be  "the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the state or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the state, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, placing the person outside the protection of the law."

Even though this definition ties forced disappearance to agents of the state or groups authorized by the state, this report documents forced disappearance by all parties, since some armed forces on the ground virtually play the role of government. Such armed forces include ISIS, Al-Nusra and the PYD-affiliated Kurd Self-Management Forces, as well as other opposition forces that have seized power over Syrian territories. All of these forces have detained a number of individuals, some of whom have disappeared.

In the Syrian context of overwhelming chaos, it is rare for an individual to be detained with an official order for legitimate reason. Quite the contrary, most people are detained from their bedrooms after their houses are damaged, from checkpoints or from streets. The latter has become the most common, to assure there is no proof of the involvement of government forces and thus avoid responsibility for whatever torture or sexual abuse is inflicted.

Our records include cases of forced disappearances that took place as long as four years ago, when the Syrian civil war erupted. What is more striking is wide geographical space now governed by violent groups. Independent of central authorities, these groups have managed to set up and operate secret detention centers. Sectarian groups are responsible for the most violence and bloodshed.

The goal of this report is to expose even these “gray” violations, those perpetrated against Syrian civilians by non-state actors, so that they can be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court. We hope this report, along with similar ones, attracts the attention of the international community, specifically the UN Security Council, so resolutions to end these continuing atrocities can be adopted and put into action.


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