August 30th, 2020 marks the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.
Out of 173 women and girls allegedly kidnapped by armed groups in occupied Afrin since January 2018, just 64 have reportedly been released. The fate of 109 others is unknown.
According to the United Nations, an enforced disappearance occurs when: “persons are arrested, detained or abducted against their will or otherwise deprived of their liberty by officials of different branches or levels of Government, or by organized groups or private individuals acting on behalf of, or with the support, direct or indirect, consent or acquiescence of the Government, followed by a refusal to disclose the fate or whereabouts of the persons concerned or a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of their liberty, which places such persons outside the protection of the law.”
With every additional day that these women and girls individuals remain in the custody of Turkish-backed armed groups in Afrin, they are at risk of torture, sexual violence, and other human rights violations. There have been multiple allegations of these crimes in incidents compiled by the Missing Afrin Women Project.
In some cases, Syrian detainees in Turkish-occupied areas have been taken to Turkey and put on trial under Turkish law, without the knowledge of their families. There have also been allegations of human trafficking and forced prostitution.
One recent incident illustrated the urgency of complete and thorough investigations for these cases. On May 28th, 2020, a video filmed during clashes between armed groups showed eight women who had been detained in an unofficial prison operated by the Hamza Division in Afrin city center.
All eight were identified as women whose disappearances had been reported between June 2018 and February 2020. None of the women’s families knew of their whereabouts prior to the video.
The family of one woman had reportedly been told that she was dead, and others had only been contacted by members of armed groups demanding ransoms.
As of August 2020, seven of the women seen in the video are still missing. Some reports allege that they are held in another unofficial detention site in Afrin, while others claim that they may have been transferred to Turkey.
The Missing Afrin Women Project calls for an end to all kidnappings, arbitrary detentions, and disappearances in occupied Afrin, and the immediate release of all those who have been subjected to these practices. We continue to encourage governments and international organizations to further investigate these incidents.