© 2023 Milwaukee Public Media is a service of UW-Milwaukee's College of Letters & Science
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Looking For Accountability For Syria's Disappeared


The war in Syria may be grinding to an end. With the help of Russia, the ruling Assad government is trying to retake the last rebel stronghold. But that could make it harder for Syrians to get any accountability for crimes committed by the regime. Tens of thousands of Syrians have either disappeared, or they've been detained during Assad's rule. This is according to the U.N. Here's NPR's Michele Kelemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The U.N.'s undersecretary general for political affairs says as many as 100,000 Syrians have been detained, abducted or disappeared during the course of the war in Syria, and Rosemary DiCarlo says, in her words, largely but not only by the Syrian government.


ROSEMARY DICARLO: Places of detention are not accessible to the U.N. or international monitors. Records from hospitals or burial sites are not public. Some families have been forced to pay enormous sums of money in hope of obtaining information, often in vain.

KELEMEN: She also blamed other armed groups including ISIS and rebel factions of abuses. DiCarlo was speaking to the Security Council, which also heard firsthand testimony from two Syrian women. One of them, Hala Al Ghawi, says she has relatives who have been missing for six years and former medical colleagues who have been tortured and killed in Syrian government custody.


HALA AL GHAWI: Mothers in my country take dangerous trips to courthouses and detention centers every day. They stand for hours waiting for an answer. They often come back home broken with nothing new, yet they make that dream again and again.

KELEMEN: She wants the Security Council to demand answers from the Syrian government and put pressure on all the warring sides to free anyone who's been detained arbitrarily.


GHAWI: A new, peaceful Syria can't be built while people are still being tortured and executed. We cannot move on without answers about our loved ones. If you fail in delivering the above, you will again fail the Syrian people, and we will hold you responsible.

KELEMEN: The Security Council has been divided over Syria. Russia backs President Bashar al-Assad's government and is helping it retake the last remaining rebel stronghold in the country. U.N. officials say they continue to receive reports of arbitrary arrests in areas now back under government control, and they warn that deters refugees from returning.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

(SOUNDBITE OF FANTOMPOWER'S "FREE [AT EASE]") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.