According to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR), enforced disappearances are a hallmark of the ruling regime in Syria to eliminate opposition groups and to instill a climate of fear as a means of ending the rebellion. Also the armed opposition, including the Free Syrian Army, is guilty of abductions and the killing and torturing of government allies and members of the Alawi community.
It is estimated that almost 50,000 persons are missing in Syria, 17,000 as a consequence of the rule of Hafez al-Assad and Bashar al-Assad, and 30,000 as a result of the current conflict. Since the recent fighting began in 2011, there have been reports of mass graves near major cities such as Deraa, Damascus, Aleppo, and in the Christian town of Sadad.
In addition, as many as 600 Lebanese nationals are estimated missing in Syria as a result of the civil conflict in Lebanon between 1975 to 1990 and the subsequent Syrian occupation, which lasted until 2005.
The Violations Documentation Centre, gathers the names of detainees and the place and date of their arrests. Avaaz, the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, and the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies are all involved in accounting for the missing, the detained, and the dead, using different criteria and statistical and research methods.
Other agencies engaged in collecting and tabulating data on missing persons in Syria include:
- The Human Rights Data Analysis Group
- The Syrian Commission for Transitional Justice
- The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic
- ACT for the Disappeared
- Human Rights Watch
- Amnesty International
- The International Committee of the Red Cross
- Syria Justice and Accountability Centre
- Syrian Center for Statistics and Research
ICMP currently assists Syrian NGOs who have contacted ICMP, and has worked with the Syrian Commission for Transitional Justice in its efforts to build programs and future plans for restoring justice in Syria.
ICMP has proposed working with Syrian refugees and displaced persons outside the country to collect and collate data on missing family members via the Online Inquiry Center. Although this proposal has not been taken forward, ICMP will continue to pursue options regarding the missing persons issue in Syria. Any ICMP engagement will aim to establish the preconditions for a program of accounting for missing persons which will be a fundamental component of future justice and reconciliation efforts.