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First, I would like to thank Ms. Under-Secretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo for her briefing and Ms. Amina Khoulani and Ms. Hala Al Ghawi for sharing their moving stories with us. The losses and heavy blows of fate you and your families have suffered stand for thousands of other Syrian families who have lost their loved ones in Syrian prisons or are still left in the dark about their fate or whereabouts.
We welcome that Special Envoy Pedersen has made concrete action on the issue of detainees, abductees and missing persons one of his five priorities. We support his efforts and his engagement with the Syrian parties and all relevant states. We hope that his intensive efforts will soon result in meaningful and tangible progress on this issue. We agree with his assessment that progress on this issue would be an important confidence building measure.
UNSC resolution 2254 is very clear: It calls on the parties to immediately release any arbitrarily detained persons, particularly women and children.
Today’s meeting on detainees and missing persons in Syria reminds us that eight years after the beginning of the conflict and five years after the publication of the so called “Caesar photos”, the situation in Syrian prisons is still unbearable.
According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, at least 140.000 individuals are still detained or have disappeared at the hands of the main parties to the conflict in Syria. It is important to note that Syrian regime forces account for around 90% of these cases. More than 14.000 have allegedly died due to torture; almost 99% at the hands of the Syrian regime.
And this gruesome practice is still ongoing: According to estimates by the Syrian Network for Human Rights, around 1.700 persons were arbitrarily arrested and more than 140 persons died under torture in the prisons of the Syrian regime this year alone. The Commission of Inquiry has called this systematic pattern of mass arrests and enforced disappearance by the Syrian regime a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population.
The Syrian regime has arbitrarily detained and continues to arbitrarily detain thousands of innocent Syrians merely because they dare to make use of their freedom of expression. The Syrian regime has tortured thousands of innocent Syrians to death merely because they dared to ask for political reforms and freedom in Syria. We are talking about ordinary people, about engaged citizens. Calling these people “terrorists” in order to create a pretext for their arrest and torture is scandalous and extremely cynical.
The crimes committed against detainees in prisons of the Syrian regime are broadly documented. The Independent International Commission of Inquiry has rightfully named these crimes war crimes.
Arbitrary arrests, torture, sexual violence, enforced disappearance, and executions in Syrian prisons must stop immediately!
While we welcome the four prisoner exchanges facilitated by the Astana Working Group on the Release of Detainees/Abductees, these reciprocal low-level exchanges are, considering the high estimates of detained and missing Syrians, clearly insufficient. Keeping in mind that the majority is detained by the Syrian regime, the regime’s insistence on reciprocal exchanges is inacceptable.
The Syrian regime must immediately release all political prisoners and arbitrarily held detainees. It must agree to a timetable for identifying and releasing all detained individuals.
It is crucial that the Syrian regime publishes a comprehensive list of the names of all detainees and informs the families of the tens of thousands missing persons about the fate of their loved ones.
Last year the regime simultaneously issued thousands of death notifications for detained and missing persons; listing heart failure or stroke as the cause of death. Often groups of people detained in the same facility share death dates, making summary executions seem likely. This must be further investigated.
The Syrian regime should also provide families with notifications of the burial sites of all detainees, abductees and missing persons who have deceased. Not even allowing families to grief, to know about their loved-one’s fate only adds to the abominable crimes committed by the regime in its prisons.
The crimes and atrocities committed on all sides during the Syrian conflict, including horrific accounts of murder, torture and sexual violence in Syrian prisons, must be investigated and the perpetrators be brought to justice.
National reconciliation and lasting peace in Syria will not be possible without accountability. The IIIM has become a central repository of information and evidence of the crimes committed in Syria and therefore has a crucial role to play for the prosecution of crimes committed during the Syrian conflict.
We will continue to support the work of the IIIM and of the Commission of Inquiry and we will continue to pursue accountability in order to achieve justice for the victims and eventually enable national reconciliation and sustainable peace.
Thank you Ms. President