HUMANS NOT NUMBERS
The Case for an International Mechanism to Address the Detainees and Disappeared Crisis in Syria
Professor Dr Jeremy Sarkin
We are five associations of Syrian victims, survivors and their family members who have suffered
immeasurably from the crimes of arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, torture and many
other detention-related abuses. Like the families of the countless Syrians who have been disappeared
by all parties to the conflict since 2011 and before, we still suffer the daily pain of not knowing the
fate of our loved ones, as well as other forms of hardship resulting from their absence.
As victims and survivors, we have rights. We have therefore developed the Truth and Justice Charter,
where we lay out our vision and demands for truth, justice and the role we must play in rebuilding our
country. We have clear and achievable demands, accompanied by measures to make our vision a reality.
We must know the truth about the fate of our loved ones. Those still alive must be released immediately.
We want to receive the remains of those who have lost their lives, to give them a dignified burial
and enable us to grieve in peace. And we want guarantees that this will not happen again to
prevent others suffering what we have suffered. We have been working tirelessly for these simple aims.
But despite years of activism, documentation and international outcry, there is still no effective
body or institution that can help us discover the fate of our missing daughters, sons, spouses, parents
and siblings. We therefore requested Professor Dr Jeremy Sarkin to study the available options for
a new mechanism dedicated to this purpose. Through this study, we seek to lay out ways forward in
order to turn the support we have received from international actors into concrete action. We now
call for international cooperation to establish a mechanism to search for the missing and disappeared
in Syria, drawing on the ideas outlined in this study. After ten years of conflict, detention and
disappearance, it is time to act.
This project emerged out of a request by the following five Syrian organisations representing
survivors and victims who have suffered at the hands of various perpetrators in Syria:
• Association of Detainees and Missing Persons in Sednaya Prison
• Caesar Families Association
• Coalition of Families of Persons Kidnapped by ISIS (Massar)
• Families for Freedom
• Ta’afi Initiative
This report aims to put the goals of the five groups at its heart and ensure that any mechanism set
up to deal with the disappeared and detained is victim-centred and focuses on getting the detained
released, locating detention facilities, finding the remains of those who are no longer alive and
beginning the process of finding out what happened to them.
This is not to discount long-term justice goals such as prosecutions. As the five groups state in
their Truth and Justice Charter launched on 10 February 2021: “We… differentiate between shortterm
justice and long-term justice. In the short term there are immediate measures that must be
taken to put a halt to ongoing violations and alleviate the suffering of survivors, victims and their
families. In the medium- to longer-term we have additional demands to ensure comprehensive
justice and non-repetition of the crimes we have suffered and continue to suffer from.”7 Accountability
must eventually take its course, but the victims’ immediate priority is finding out the fate of their
In setting out the case for establishing a new mechanism to find Syria’s disappeared and detained,
this report seeks to shed light on the nature and extent of enforced disappearances and detentions in
Syria since 2011 and examines what help is currently available to survivors and family members. It
briefly reviews the lessons learned from how survivors and victims were traced in other conflict zones
before setting out options for setting up a new mechanism within the UN, EU or other country blocs.