Top UN officials called for creating a new institution to help locate tens of thousands of missing Syrians and bring peace to their families, as the General Assembly debated on Tuesday the human rights situation in the country.
Entering its 13th year of brutal civil war and scrambling to recover from devastating earthquakes in February, Syria and its people “deserve peace” and to know the truth about the fate of their loved ones, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said.
100,000 Syrians missing
“The whereabouts and fate of an estimated 100,000 Syrians remains unknown,” he said. “People in every part of the country and across all divides have loved ones who are missing, including family members who were forcibly disappeared, abducted, tortured, and arbitrarily detained.”
Commending the courageous work of Syrian family, victim, and survivor associations and other civil society groups to chart a path forward, he called on the General Assembly to establish a new international institution.
“We must work to resolve this deeply painful situation with determination and urgency,” he said, urging all Member States to act and calling on the Government of Syria and on all parties to the conflict to cooperate.
“It is essential to help Syrians heal and remove an obstacle to securing sustainable peace,” he said. “The international community has a moral obligation to help ease their plight.”
New proposed mechanism
Echoing that call and elaborating on the parameters of such a new mechanism, Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, shared findings of consultations with major stakeholders, from the International Committee of the Red Cross to Syrian associations.
Those consulted, along with a number of Member States, had agreed that a new, dedicated entity should be tasked with streamlining existing efforts.
The mechanism would be centred on victims and survivors, emphasize gender sensitivity, ensure inclusivity, operate without discrimination, and would be guided, in all search activities, by the working presumption that the missing person is alive and in urgent need of help, he said, drawing on stakeholder consultations.
“The crisis of missing persons in Syria is crushing in its enormity,” he said. “The continuing absence of many tens of thousands of people, from small children to elderly men and women, cries out for strong action. This shared pain in neighbourhoods and villages across the country must be addressed. Reconciliation will remain distant without such work.”
Mending divided communities
Proposing several additional parameters, he said the mechanism must be located where survivors and families feel safe, be fully grounded in human rights, and ensure transparency and adaptability.
“There will be no enduring peace in Syria without progress on these issues that are fundamental to families, communities, and society as a whole,” he said. “Steps in this direction can begin to restore trust between divided communities. We owe the people of Syria no less.”