Urgent Interventions

Abducted Activists’ Whereabouts Remain Unknown

3 Yearson, No Word on Douma 4

Theprominent Syrian human rights defenders RazanZaitouneh, Samira Al-Khalil,Wa’el Hamada and Nazim Hammadi, who remain missingthree years after armed men abducted them, should be released immediately, 56human rights organizations said today, on the anniversary of their abduction.

OnDecember 9, 2013, a group of armed men stormed into the office of the ViolationsDocumentation Center (VDC) in Syria, a local human rights monitoring group in Douma, in the Damascus countryside. They abducted Zaitouneh, the head of the center, herhusband, Wa’el Hamada, and colleagues, SamiraAl-Khalil and Nazem Hamadi. There has been no news oftheir whereabouts since then.

Thearmed groups exercising de facto control over Douma at the time include theArmy of Islam, which is part of the Islamic Front, a coalition of armed groups.The groups should immediately release the four human rights defenders if theyare in the groups’ custody, or work toward ensuring they are released unharmedand without delay. Countries that support these groups, as well as religiousleaders and others who may have influence over them, should also press for theimmediate release of the four activists and for an end to abductions ofcivilians.

Zaitouneh had defendedpolitical prisoners in Syria since 2001 and played a key role in the promotionand protection of human rights through her brave work as a lawyer, activist andjournalist. Sincethe beginning of the crisis in 2011, Zaitouneh had played a key role in effortsto defend human rights for all and to protect independent groups and activistsin Syria. Along with a number of other activists, she established the VDC,which monitors human rights violations and records casualties in Syria.

Shealso co-founded the Local Coordination Committees (LCCs), which coordinates thework of local committees that document human rights violations in variouscities and towns across Syria. And she established the Local Development andSmall Projects Support Office (LDSPS), which assists non-governmentalorganizations in besieged Eastern Ghouta. As a result of her work, shehad been threatened by both the Syrian government and armed opposition groupsin Douma several months before her abduction.

Al-Khalil had been a longtime politicalactivist in Syria. The Syrian government detained her between 1987 and 1991 forher activism. She later worked in a publishing house before shifting herefforts to working with the families of detainees and writing about detentionin Syria. Before her abduction, she was working to help women in Douma supportthemselves by initiating small income-generating projects.

Hamada was also an activist before the 2011uprising in Syria. When peaceful protests first broke out in the country in2011, the government detained and later released him. He was an active memberand co-founder of the Local Coordination Committees and the VDC. Before hisabduction Hamada had been working to provide desperately needed humanitarianassistance to the residents of besieged Eastern Ghouta.

Hammadi,a lawyer and poet, was one of the most prominent volunteer defenders ofpolitical prisoners before and after the 2011 uprising in Syria. He contributedto founding the Local Coordination Committees and also worked to providehumanitarian assistance to residents of Eastern Ghouta.

Zaitouneh and her colleagues appear to have been abducted andarbitrarily deprived of their liberty as punishment for their legitimateactivities as human rights defenders. Such actions are prohibited byinternational humanitarian law and are contrary to international human rightsstandards. The armed groups in control of the area and the governments whosupport them should do everything in their power to facilitate the release ofZaitouneh, Hamada, Al-Khalil and Hamadi.

List of 56 signatories:

  1. Amnesty International (AI)
  2. Arab Foundation for Development and Citizenship
  3. Article 19
  4. Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID)
  5. Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)
  6. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
  7. Center for Documentation of Violations in Syria (VDC)
  8. Center For Women s Equality (CWE)
  9. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  10. Digital Lighthouse
  11. English PEN
  12. El Nadim Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence
  13. EuroMed Rights
  14. European - Bahraini Organisation for Human Rights (EBOHR)
  15. FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  16. Front Line Defenders (FLD)
  17. Foundation to Restore Equality and Education in Syria (FREE-Syria)
  18. Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
  19. Hivos International
  20. Human Rights Watch (HRW)
  21. Index on Censorship
  22. Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR)
  23. International Center for Supporting Rights and Freedoms (ICSRF)
  24. International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN)
  25. International Media Support (IMS)
  26. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  27. Iraqi Al-Amal Association
  28. Iraqi Journalists Rights Defense Association (IJRDA)
  29. Iraqi Network for Social Media (INSM)
  30. Justice for Life observatory in DeirEzzor – Syria
  31. Kvinna till Kvinna
  32. Lawyers for Lawyers (L4L)
  33. Lawyer's Rights Watch Canada
  34. Libya's Future Center for Media and Culture
  35. Maharat Foudnation
  36. Martin Ennals Foundation
  37. MENA Media Monitoring
  38. Metro Centre to Defend Journalists in Iraqi Kurdistan
  39. NGOs Platform of Saida (Tajamoh)
  40. Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA)
  41. PAX
  42. PEN International
  43. RAW in WAR (Reach All Women in War)
  44. Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
  45. Sisters' Arab Forum for Human Rights (SAF)
  46. SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom
  47. Syria Justice and Accountability Center (SJAC)
  48. Syrian Center for Legal Studies and Researches
  49. Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)
  50. Syrian Centre for Democracy and Civil Rights
  51. Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR)
  52. Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ)
  53. Vigilance Association for Democracy and the Civil State in Tunisia
  54. Vivarta
  55. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  56. Umammu Organisation in Syria

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