As the civil war in Syria rages on, UN investigators have revealed that the government is using “enforced disappearances” as part of a widespread and systematic campaign of terror against civilians.
An enforced disappearance is the “arrest, detention or abduction, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by the concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared,” according to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights report.
The practice, mainly targeting adult males, is being employed to silence the opposition and instill fear among those associated with demonstrators, activists and bloggers, according to the report. In some cases, however, the disappearances were punitive, targeting family members of defectors, activists and fighters, in addition to doctors thought to be providing medical relief to the opposition.
Although the arrests and detentions are well organized, the record keeping is not, meaning that many have disappeared without a trace.
The practice of enforced disappearances has created such an intense climate of fear that family and friends are afraid to report cases and inquire about the whereabouts of loved ones. Oftentimes those that do wind up being detained themselves.
Anti-government armed groups have also reportedly adopted a practice of hostage taking, which is “targeting civilians perceived to be supporting the Government, human rights defenders, journalists and religious leaders” for ransom or prisoner exchange.
The report is eye opening, not just because it exposes the practice of enforced disappearances, which the report concludes amount to a crime against humanity, but also because it illustrates the climate of fear in which ordinary citizens are forced to live.
Since the war began, over two million refugees have fled the country, and more than 100,000 have been killed.
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