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Urgent Interventions

Canadian government asked for support to help free Syrian human rights defender Razan Zaitouneh on 2-year anniversary of abduction

On the secondanniversary of the abduction of Syrian human rights lawyer Razan Zaitouneh, the undersigned human rights organizations reiterate their call for herimmediate release, as well as that of her missing colleagues Samira Khalil, Nazem Hamadi and Wa’el Hamada, her husband. The organizations join Zaitouneh’s family in Canadain urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Canadian government to bringattention to the abduction and disappearance of the four human rights defendersand to seek their immediate release.

On 9 December 2013, thefour human rights defenders were abducted by a group of armed men who raided the offices of the Violations Documentation Centre (VDC)in Duma, near Damascus. There has been no news of their whereabouts in the pasttwo years but the family is concerned for Zaitouneh’s health and well-beinggiven the absence of any information.

At the time of theabduction, Zaitouneh was head of the VDC, and had been awarded the 2011 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought and the 2011 Anna Politkovskaya Award of ReachAll Women in War (RAW in WAR) among other accolades, for her human rights work.

She has family livingin Canada who wish to draw attention to her case at a time when the Canadianpublic is welcoming thousands of Syrian refugees. Her parents arrived in Canadafrom Syria in 2014, as did her sister Reem Zaitouneh, with her husband and twochildren. Since settling in Canada, Reem Zaitouneh has continued her activistwork with the VDC. Her sister Rana Zaitouneh is a Canadian citizen living inCanada with her husband and four children.

In a letter to theCanadian government, Rana Zaitouneh writes: “Razan is a hero back home inSyria. She dedicated all of her time to help political prisoners. She spent hertime helping them, their cases and their families. Razan met with them, tooktheir cases to court, and she was in hiding most of the time because of herwork.”

Canadian born niece Laura Rawas observes: “I was born and raised in Canada, a countrythat prides itself on being 'free'. I never had to fear my own voice; in fact,I prided myself on it, seizing any opportunity to use it, whether throughspeech or song. This was not the case for my aunt Razan. She did not have theright to speak, though she fought for it daily.”

The VDC isactive in monitoring and reporting on human rights violations in Syria and theundersigned organizations believe that the abduction of the four human rightsdefenders was a direct result of their peaceful human rights work. Theirongoing detention forms part of a wider pattern of threats and harassmentagainst human rights defenders by both government forces and non-state actors.

In the months prior toher abduction, Zaitouneh informed human rights defenders outside Syria that shehad received threats from local armed groups in Duma. The most powerful armedgroup operating in Duma at the time of the abductions was the Army of Islam(Jaysh al-Islam) headed by Zahran Alloush. The Zaitouneh family holds ZahranAlloush responsible for the safety of Zaitouneh and her colleagues, given thelarge presence his group maintained in the area.

Just prior to herabduction, Zaitouneh, in a video interview with FIDH, said, “Nothing, not even our 100,000 deathsor harsh siege, or betrayal of the international community can ever defeat thewill of people who have a dream and faith in the future.”

Razan Zaitouneh hasbeen one of the most prominent and effective lawyers defending politicalprisoners in Syria since 2001. She has played a key role in efforts to defendthe universality of human rights and support independent groups and activistsin Syria. Along with a number of other activists, she established the VDC andco-founded the Local Coordination Committees (LCC),which co-ordinate the work of local committees in various cities and townsacross Syria. She also established the Local Development and Small ProjectsSupport Office, which assists non-governmental organizations in besiegedEastern Ghouta.

The undersignedorganizations urge the Government of Canada to take all steps to ensure that RazanZaitouneh, Samira Khalil, Nazem Hamadi and Wa’el Hamada are located andreleased immediately in accordance with the requirements of international law.


Amnesty International
Amnesty International Canada
Canadian Journalistsfor Free Expression (CJFE)
FIDH under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
Human Rights Watch (HRW)
Lawyers Rights Watch
Canada (LWRC)
PEN Canada
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) under the Observatory for the Protection of Human RightsDefenders

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