Amnesty International says more than 65,000 civilians have been "disappeared" since Syrian conflict began in March 2011. It claims families have fallen into debt paying middlemen trying to recover missing loved ones.
The Syrian government is profiting from money families pay to find loved ones forcibly disappeared, in what amounts to crimes against humanity. That's according to a report released on Thursday by Amnesty International, a London-based rights group.
"The government's enforced disappearances are part of a coldly calculated, widespread attack against the civilian population," Philip Luther, director of rights group Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa program, told the DPA news agency. "These are crimes against humanity, part of a carefully orchestrated campaign designed to spread terror and quash the slightest sign of dissent across the country.”
Tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, have been forcibly disappeared between March 2011 and August 2015 and remain missing, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights.
Detentions spawn black market
Families are left with no trace of their relatives and often face arrest themselves if they contact authorities seeking information, the report says.
The result is that an illicit market of middlemen has emerged to whom desperate families pay tens of thousands of euros - often taking loans and selling property and valuables - in order to try and obtain information on the fate of their missing loved ones.
"As well as shattering lives, disappearances are driving a black market economy of bribery, which trades in the suffering of families who have lost a loved one," Luther said.
Those detained by the government are often squeezed into overcrowded, dirty cells where disease is rampant and medical treatment unavailable, Amnesty said. Inhumane conditions are made worse by routine torture that includes electric shocks, flogging, branding, sexual assault and worse.
"People would die and then be replaced," former detainee Salam Othman told Amnesty. "I did not leave the cell for the whole three years, not once ... Many people became hysterical and lost their minds.”
The Syrian government is responsible for 96 percent of the kidnappings while rebel jihadist groups including 'Islamic State' have been blamed for the rest.
Amnesty said it tried to engage with the Syrian authorities on the issue of forced disappearances and is still waiting for a response. Damascus regularly dismisses reports accusing the state of human rights abuses.
More than 250,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict since 2011, despite international efforts for a diplomatic solution. Millions have been displaced sparking one of the worst refugee crises in modern times.
jar/jr (Reuters, AFP, dpa)