On June 29, 2023, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution creating a new independent institution on the missing in the Syria Arab Republic. Eighty-three member states voted in favor, 11 voted against, and 62 abstained. ICTJ welcomes the resolution, which represents a momentary reprieve in Syria’s otherwise bleak justice landscape. This vote represents a critical step forward in supporting all those who seek answers about the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones and who suffer daily from the indignities and grave hardships that ensue when a loved one goes missing.
This new body will be dedicated to fulfilling families’ right to the truth and will also address survivors’ critical humanitarian needs. As the Permanent Representative of Luxembourg to the United Nations H.E. Olivier Maes emphasized, “This resolution does not point a finger at anyone. It has only one goal, and it is a humanitarian goal.”
More than 100,000 individuals are known to have vanished into Syria’s official and makeshift detention facilities. In its December 2021 report, the Bridges of Truth project—a collaboration of ICTJ and eight Syrian civil society organizations—described this system as an untold darkness into which Syrians continue to disappear. An unknown number of citizens have also disappeared while fleeing the conflict or perished in it as uncounted casualties.
For years, families of the disappeared and other victims have led the push for an independent mechanism, including through the Truth and Justice Charter. The new institution is the first of its kind at the international level and paves the way for justice in Syria, something that will require the sustained support, commitment, and collaboration of all stakeholders.
The challenges that families have faced over the past 12 years of conflict, and that they continue to face to this day, are vast and varied, ranging from detention itself, to extortion, threats, harassment, and the resulting daily trauma. This is especially true for women whose husbands, sons, or fathers are the ones missing and who must lead the search while supporting their families. The new mechanism brings hope at long last. “The best expertise, methodology, technology and adequate resources will be mobilized for this institution,” asserted Hanny Megally, a member of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic.
Much work remains to be done. Currently, stakeholders are preparing the formal terms of reference to operationalize this new body and consultations with families of the missing and members of civil society are underway to ensure the institution reflects their views. However, continuous outreach is essential to keep families and civil society informed and engaged both now at the early stages of the process and on an ongoing basis throughout the institution’s mandate. The families and the organizations serving them have long advocated for such an institution, and the inclusion of their perspectives will only help guarantee its success.
PHOTO: The UN General Assembly adopts a resolution establishing an independent institution on missing persons in the Syrian Arab Republic on June 29, 2023. (Manuel Elías/UN Photo)