UN panel: Syrian families need information on dead, missing

The head of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria said Wednesday that “now is the moment” for the Syrian government to provide information on thousands of detained and missing people — not after the seven-year conflict ends.

Paulo Pinheiro told reporters after briefing a closed informal meeting of the U.N. Security Council that the commission “will continue to fight for accountability but we think that there are … urgent expectations by the families” for President Bashar Assad’s government to account for the fate of their loved ones.

He said the government has released information on the deaths of numerous detained and missing people “but little else.”

“We’re saying the families have a right to know what happened, where the bodies are, to get information about them,” Pinheiro said, adding that families “who’ve not heard are worried about their relatives, if they’re still alive, in detention.”

In a paper issued to coincide with the council meeting, the commission said numerous families learned for the first time in May 2018 of the fate of fathers, husbands, sons and other relatives when the government provided civil registry offices with information on individuals who were deceased.

“The release this year of what may amount to thousands or tens of thousands of names of allegedly deceased detainees and/or missing persons is unprecedented,” Pinheiro said in that document.

He said that when a person dies in state custody, the burden is on the state to prove that the death “did not result from acts of omissions attributable to it.”

“Each custodial death must be independently investigated, and the results must be publicly reported,” Pinheiro said.

The commission called on Syrian authorities not only to provide information on the fate of the missing and how people perished but to “promptly, thoroughly, transparently, and independently” investigate all deaths in custody or resulting from summary or extrajudicial executions.

Pinheiro told reporters that more than at any time in the commission’s seven years of work, “it’s crucial to have access to the country, because these issues must be discussed with the Syrian authorities concerned.”

He said several members of the Security Council “have different aspects of leverage” to help.

Asked about Russia, Syria’s closest council ally, he replied without elaborating: “We had a very good dialogue with them.”

Pinheiro said the commission expects the 15 council members to understand “that the issues of detainees and disappeared is not to be dealt (with) after the peace but now is the moment” to consider this.

Britain’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Jonathan Allen, who presided at the meeting, called on Syrian authorities “to release information to long-suffering agonized families about the fate of their loved ones, and to do so as quickly as possible.”

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