The United Nations General Assembly has adopted a draft resolution to establish an independent institution dedicated to addressing the issue of missing persons in the Syrian Arab Republic. On Thursday, June 29, 2023, a vote was held on draft resolution A/77/L.79, which aims to establish an international institution focused on addressing the plight of missing persons in Syria. The resolution was approved by 83 votes out of 193 countries, with 11 votes against and 62 abstentions. This resolution highlights the lack of progress in alleviating the suffering of the families of the missing after 12 years of conflict and violence in Syria.
Preceding Steps Leading to the Decision:
This initiative follows years of advocacy by Syrian civil society organizations and international entities, urging action on the issue and the establishment of an independent mechanism under the United Nations’ auspices to investigate the fate of detainees, missing persons, and forcibly disappeared individuals in Syria. On August 2, 2022, the Secretary-General of the United Nations issued report No. A/76/890, which addressed the clarification of the fate and whereabouts of missing persons, the identification of human remains, and the provision of support to their families. This report shed light on the issue of enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, torture, death in detention, and other crimes against humanity committed by the Syrian regime. Additionally, on March 13, 2023, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic issued report No. A/HRC/52/69, further exposing the Syrian regime’s patterns of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and unfair trials.
Following these efforts and extensive technical work, which included legal analysis of Syrian law and discussions on two main aspects, the establishment of an independent institution became an unavoidable necessity due to:
The Syrian regime’s continued policy of violating human rights through local laws and legislation: Enforced disappearance is not considered a crime under Syrian law, and the Syrian regime has misled the United Nations by falsely claiming the existence of a national mechanism to reveal the fate of the missing.
The crucial role played by civil society organizations in documenting these violations, engaging with victims, and collaborating with United Nations mechanisms, particularly in addressing the issue of enforced disappearance.
These factors led the Member States of the General Assembly to vote in favor of the resolution, which subsequently passed. The resolution stipulates the establishment of the Independent Commission on Missing Persons in Syria under the auspices of the United Nations. The commission’s mandate includes clarifying the fate and whereabouts of all missing persons, providing support to victims and their families, and ensuring close and integrated cooperation with all relevant stakeholders. Furthermore, the resolution emphasizes the need for the commission to have a structural element that guarantees the participation of victims, survivors, and families of missing persons in Syria.
Steps for Implementation:
The General Assembly has requested Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to develop the terms of reference for the independent body within 80 working days of the resolution’s adoption. This process will be supported by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and conducted in consultation with all relevant actors, including the meaningful participation of victims, survivors, and families.
Additionally, the General Assembly urges the Secretary-General to promptly undertake the necessary steps, measures, and arrangements to expedite the establishment of the independent body and ensure its full functioning.
The draft resolution calls upon all states and parties involved in the Syrian conflict to fully cooperate with the independent commission and other relevant actors.
It also mandates full cooperation from United Nations organizations, requiring them to promptly respond to any requests, including providing access to information and documents. This cooperation is vital to supplying the commission with any relevant information and data, as well as any other form of assistance necessary for carrying out its mandate.
The Free Syrian Lawyers Association (FSLA) Supports the Establishment of an Institution for the Missing in Syria:
The FSLA played a significant role in this legal process, alongside various specialized international legal organizations, local and international human rights organizations, and victims’ associations. The FSLA actively supported the steps leading to the establishment of this institution, contributing to legal analysis, legal awareness campaigns, meetings with victims’ associations, and coordination with Syrian and international civil society organizations and institutions. The association engaged in several activities and legal events, including the Syrian Conference for Justice, version 2, held in Gaziantep, Turkey, from August 8 to 31, 2022, which focused on justice paths and the issue from the victims’ perspective.
The FSLA also organized a symposium on the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearance, advocating for their rights and maintaining close cooperation with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry by actively participating in the issuance of reports shedding light on cases of enforced disappearance. The FSLA welcomed the Human Rights Council’s resolution on April 4, 2023, which adopted the International Commission of Inquiry’s report, condemning the grave violations committed by the Syrian regime and demanding the disclosure of information regarding the fate of the missing.
The FSLA fully supports the establishment of this institution and welcomes its formation as a positive and necessary step. It emphasizes the implementation of Resolution 2254 from 2015, which calls for an effective political transition towards democracy and human rights in Syria. Such a transition will contribute to uncovering the fate of the hundreds of thousands of Syrians who have been detained and forcibly disappeared in the regime’s prisons and detention centers. This effort serves as a starting point for achieving transitional justice, prosecuting, and holding perpetrators accountable for the crimes they committed under international criminal law, and ultimately ensuring justice and lasting peace for the Syrian people.