Local authorities in northern Syria have failed to advance efforts to find people kidnapped by ISIS more than a year after its territorial defeat in Syria, Human Rights Watch said. The authorities should promptly dedicate resources to uncover what happened to the thousands of missing people.
During ISIS’s reign in Syria, the armed group committed horrific abuses against the civilian population, chief among them the kidnapping and execution of thousands of people abducted from their homes, checkpoints, and workplaces. ISIS targeted people it saw as an obstacle to its expansion or resisting its rule. The kidnappings and disappearances spread fear and confusion, removed vocal opponents, and set an example for those who might have been tempted to resist.
“Local authorities in the Syrian areas once held by ISIS need to make those kidnapped by ISIS a priority,” said Sara Kayyali, Syria researcher at Human Rights Watch, “With ISIS defeated and many suspects in custody, the authorities have the access they need to the area and to the information they need. What is needed now is the political will to find answers.”
No segment of the Syrian population was left untouched. Human Rights Watch has documented abductions of Syrian government soldiers, Kurdish activists, and journalists affiliated with the opposition. Yet no authority has provided the resources or political will necessary to uncover what happened to the missing in Syria and elsewhere, or to seriously consider and engage the pleas from families to find out what happened to their loved ones.
In February 2020, Human Rights Watch published a report in which it urged local authorities to dedicate resources to this effort, including by creating a centralized system to reach out to families of the kidnapped, access key intelligence on ISIS suspects that may provide leads, and exhume mass graves.
On April 7, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) in northeast Syria announced the creation of a working group to address the issue of detainees. Despite this positive step, it has not taken any other measures to prioritize discovering what happened to those apprehended by ISIS and last heard of in the group’s custody. The Syrian Democratic Council and its military arm, the Syrian Democratic Forces, are supported by the US-led anti-ISIS coalition.