Syria: Razan Zaitouneh and her colleagues still forcibly disappeared after six years


Today, 09 December 2019, marks the occasion of the disappearance of Syrian woman human rights defender Razan Zaitouneh with her husband Wael Hamada, and colleagues Samira Khalil and Nazem Hamadi. Today, on International Human Rights Defenders Day, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) reiterates calls for their immediate release six years after their abduction in 2013. 

On 09 December 2013, the four human rights defenders – collectively known as the “Douma Four” - were abducted by a group of armed men who raided the offices of the Violations Documentation Centre (VDC) in Douma, in Eastern Ghouta, near Damascus.

Zaitouneh has been one of the most prominent lawyers and women human rights defenders who led the human rights movement and defended political prisoners in Syria since 2001. She has played a key role in efforts to defend human rights for all people. Along with a number of other defenders, Zaitouneh established the VDC in June 2011 to document the violations committed by all parties to the conflict following the start of the Syrian revolution.

Zaitouneh is an award-winning defender whose work will always be remembered. She was one of three finalists for the 2016 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, and was awarded the 2011 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought and the 2011 Anna Politkovskaya Award of Reach All Women in War (RAW in WAR), among other accolades, for her human rights work.

In February 2016, a coalition of NGOs nominated Zaitouneh as the prisoner of the month as part of the “Their freedom is their right” campaign initiated by the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Maharat Foundation and joined by GCHR 

Razan and her colleagues are among many activists, rights defenders and individuals who have been missing for years in Syrian prisons and at the hands of armed groups. It seems impossible to calculate the toll of the disappeared in Syria since the eruption of the revolution in 2011. However, in August 2019, the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) reported that at least 98,000 are forcibly disappeared in Syrian prisons since March 2011. The plight of enforced disappearance continues to be used as a reprisal tool by the Syrian authorities with utmost impunity.

“The Syrian authorities have been using enforced disappearance as a way to not only punish Syrian dissent and activists, but also as a terrorising tool aimed at silencing dissent and propagandizing a public façade,” said Weaam Youssef, GCHR’s WHRDs Programme Manager. “On the 14th Day of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Campaign we continue to challenge violence against women and girls, by shedding light on the different forms of violence committed against women in the Middle East, including the systematic targeting of women across the region for their human rights activism, feminism and fundamental identities of being women.  Today we remember Razan, Samira and all women who suffered disappearance, torture and sexual violence in abduction and imprisonment, among other forms of GBV.”

On International Human Rights Defenders Day, GCHR reminds the international community of its commitment and responsibility to protect human rights defenders, and to end the violence in Syria, seek justice and hold war criminals and perpetrators accountable. Syrian activists and defenders are the key actors to achieve peace and security in the country, and must be protected to enact justice, reconciliation, reparations, and sustainable peace.

GCHR joins colleagues from the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression among 60 NGOs who signed a Joint statement on the Fate of the Missing, Detained and Forcibly Disappeared and to guarantee the freedom and safety of human rights defenders in Syria.