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Urgent Interventions

Syria: Ongoing enforced disappearance of Mr. Ali Shahabi

New Information
SYR 005 / 0806 / OBS 099.1
Enforced disappearance / Fear of torture

September 19, 2006

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Syria.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources of the ongoing enforced disappearance of Mr. Ali Shahabi, a writer and a professor, known for his strong involvement in the promotion of democracy and human rights in Syria.

According to the information received, the relatives of Mr. Shahabi, who was summoned on August 10, 2006 to the State Security Services in Damascus (See background information), remain without information on his whereabouts and conditions of detention.

Moreover, although they tried to visit him on numerous occasions at the State Security Services office since his summon, they were denied the right to see him, under the pretext that he would still be “interrogated”.

The Observatory fears for Mr. Shahabi’s physical and psychological integrity, and recalls that those acts blatantly violate the provisions of human rights international instruments, in particular Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Syria is a party, which states that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention”, and that “anyone who is arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for his arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against him”. They also contravene Articles 1 and 17 of the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which respectively provide that “no one shall be subjected to enforced disappearances” and that “no one shall be held in secret detention”. The Observatory recalls that, according to article 2 of this Convention, “enforced disappearance is considered to be the arrest, detention [...] or any other form of deprivation of liberty committed by agents of the [...] State [...] or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of a disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law”.

Background information:

Mr. Shahabi was summoned on August 10, 2006 to the State Security Services in Damascus, as it had been regularly the case over the last past months. As Mr. Shahabi did not come back home, his wife went to the services in order to inquire into his situation. She was then told to “come back in a week”, strongly implying that he was being detained.

Those acts followed the arrests and detention of many other human rights activists and intellectuals during the past few months. In this regard, the Observatory recalls that many other persons were arrested after signing the Damascus-Beirut Declaration, a petition initiated by Syrian and Lebanese intellectuals and human rights defenders, calling for the normalisation of relations between Lebanon and Syria, of which Mr. Shahabi was also a signatory. Amongst these persons were Mr. Michel Kilo, a prominent pro-democracy activist and the president of the Organisation for the Defence of Freedom of Expression and the Press and Mr. Anouar Bunni, founder member of the Syrian Human Rights Association and member of the Committee for the Defence of Prisoners of Conscience, who also remain detained to date at Adra Prison (See Observatory Urgent Appeals SYR 003/0506/OBS 060 and OBS 060.1, as well as FIDH/OMCT joint press release dated May 18, 2006).

Action requested :

Please write to the Syrian authorities and ask them to : i. guarantee, in all circumstances, the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Ali Shahabi, and of all human rights defenders arbitrarily detained;

ii. take prompt action in order to locate Mr. Shahabi, make public his whereabouts, and ensure his immediate release;

iii. put an end to all forms of harassment against all human rights defenders in Syria;

iv. conform with the provisions of the Declaration on Humans Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, in particular article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually or in association with others, to promote the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”, and article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually or in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”, and with the provisions of the above-mentioned International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance;

v. more generally, ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Syria in accordance with international human rights standards.

Addresses :

  • M. Bashar al-ASAD, President of the Republic, Presidential Palace, Abu Rummaneh, Al-Rashid Street Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic. Tel/ Fax : + 963 11 33 23 410
  • Général Basam ABD AL-MAJID, Ministry of the Interior, Merjeh Circle, Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic. Tel/Fax : +963 11 222 34 28; Email:
  • M. Muhammad al-GHAFRI, Ministry of Justice, Al Nasr street, Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic. Tel/Fax : +963 11 224 62 50
  • M. Walid MU’ALLIM, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, al-Rashid Street, Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic. Fax: + 963 11 332 76 20
  • His Excellence Ambassador Mr. Bashar JA’AFARI, Permanent Mission of the Syrian Arab Republic to the United Nations in Geneva, Rue de Lausanne 72 (3rd floor), 1202 Geneva, Switzerland, Fax: +41 22 715 45 60, Email:
  • Ambassador Mr. Badi Khattab, Diplomatic Mission of the Syrian Arab Republic in Brussels, 1 avenue F.D. Roosevelt, 1050 Brussels, Belgium, Tel: + 32 2 554 19 22; Fax: + 32 2 648 14 85

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Syria in your respective countries.

Paris-Geneva, September 19, 2006

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory, a FIDH and OMCT venture, is dedicated to the protection of Human Rights Defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need. The Observatory was the winner of the 1998 Human Rights Prize of the French Republic.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
Tel and fax FIDH: + 33 (0) 1 43 55 20 11 / +33 1 43 55 18 80
Tel and fax OMCT: + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29
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