American journalist Austin Tice disappeared in Damascus, Syria 10 years ago this week.
Last week, US President Joe Biden said the United States knew “with certainty” that Tice was being held by the Syrian government. “I call on Syria to end this and help us bring him home,” Biden said in a statement. Tice, who was covering the conflict in Syria at the time, was last seen at a checkpoint in a disputed area west of Damascus on August 14, 2012, just days after turning 31.
The Syrian government has never acknowledged holding Tice, and senior officials have reportedly denied having any information about his whereabouts. If held by Syrian government forces, their allies or other parties to the conflict, it would likely amount to “enforced disappearance”, a crime under international law. According to his family, since Tice’s capture, the only information released by his captors is a 43-second video showing him being held by unidentified gunmen.
Tice’s family deserves answers, as do the families of tens of thousands of others who have been kidnapped, arbitrarily detained and forcibly disappeared by the Syrian government, anti-government armed groups and extremist armed groups like the Islamic State. (ISIS). The systematic use of enforced disappearances by the Syrian authorities frequently results in torture and death.
Groups representing the families of victims and survivors of detention, as well as Syrian civil society and international human rights organizations, have advocated tirelessly on behalf of victims of torture and thousands of missing persons. , arbitrarily detained and kidnapped, calling for an independent and strong body to investigate thousands of cases of disappearances. More recently, ten associations of Syrian victims presented their point of view on the mission of such a body to deal with the crisis of detention and enforced disappearance in Syria might look like.
Yet despite the staggering evidence of violations and the devastating impact of these practices, little progress has been made in ending these practices and holding perpetrators accountable. Instead, government forces and anti-government armed groups continue to arbitrarily arrest and abduct individuals, while families ask questions but get no answers.
While the fighting in many parts of Syria has died down, the practice of “disappearing” people has left a devastating legacy that affects tens of thousands of people: the disappeared themselves, their families and loved ones. Until there are answers to what happened and people are held accountable for these crimes, peace and stability in Syria will continue to be illusory.