After ISIS: Take urgent steps to find the disappeared

To the US-led Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, the Syrian Democratic Council, and the international community:

We call on you to take urgent steps to uncover the fate of the disappeared by ISIS and give answers to their loved ones. This includes liaising with the families, interviewing captured ISIS fighters about the whereabouts and fate of the disappeared, and immediately dedicating financial support for the exhumation of mass graves to avoid the potential loss of evidence of these horrific crimes. The families of the disappeared have the right to know what happened to their loved ones.

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Thousands of Syrians were kidnapped by ISIS, but even after the fall of the extremist group, not enough has been done to find them, give answers to their families, or to seek justice for these crimes.
Families have a right to know what happened to their loved ones.

Thousands of Syrians are believed to be missing after having been kidnapped by the Islamic State (ISIS: the Islamic State or Daesh is a terrorist Jihadi group made up of Syrian, Iraqi, and foreign recruits.ISIS). While the real number is difficult to estimate, more than 8,300 cases of disappearance have been documented.  

The extremist group once controlled a third of Syria, brutally repressing, disappearing or killing anyone who opposed it. Now that the Syrian northeast territory formerly occupied by ISIS has been liberated, families are asking about the fate of their loved ones.

Ensaf Nasr holding a portrait of her missing husband, Fouad al-Mohamad

Ensaf Nasr holding a portrait of her missing husband, Fouad al-Mohamad

“I’ve been searching for answers about my husband’s fate for years but always face dead ends. It’s the responsibility of those who have control over northeast Syria to give us the answers.”

Ensaf Nasr

The unknown truth

The kidnapped might still be alive, held in unknown locations. Many of the prisons and detention centers used by ISIS haven’t been identified and some detainees could have escaped when prisons were damaged by airstrikes carried out by the US-led Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS: a broad international coalition formed by the United States in September 2014.US-led Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS

Evidence from former ISIS prisons might have been neglected or mishandled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF): a US-backed, Kurdish-led alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias formed in 2015 as part of the campaign to defeat ISIS.US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Mass graves have also been discovered by local communities and a First Responders Team: Team of local people created by local councils in the northeast to undertake exhumations of mass graves.First Responders Team has been created by local councils in the northeast to undertake exhumations.

A former ISIS prison in northeast Syria
  • Known places of detention used by ISIS in northeast Syria

  • Where thousands of people were held by the group, many of whom remain missing

  • It is hard to estimate the total number of places ISIS turned into detention centers

© Mapbox © OpenStreetMap. Data courtesy of SJAC

The urgent search

The US-led Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS has ignored the plight of the kidnapped and the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC): The political wing of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeast Syria.Syrian Democratic Council, the civilian authority governing the areas that were formerly occupied by ISIS in northeast Syria, is under-resourced to tackle the search and has not been transparent with families of the missing.

Twenty-eight mass graves have been discovered in Northeast Syria containing 4,072 bodies, but little progress has been made to identify them. Detained ISIS fighters aren’t being questioned about the fate of the missing. 

The search to find the missing civilians has never been more urgent. ISIS fighters lingering in cells hold many of the secrets that families desperately seek, while grave sites and vital evidence will degrade with time without sufficient international funding to gather and analyze it. Family members must be involved at every stage of the search.

March 2019, a discarded ISIS flag lying on the ground in Syria’s eastern Deir Ezzor province, a day after ISIS was declared defeated by the US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). (Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACE / AFP via Getty Images)

Stand with the families of the kidnapped by ISIS and demand urgent action from the local authorities in the northeast, the US-led Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS: a broad international coalition formed by the United States in September 2014.US-led Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, and European countries with the power to scale up the search for the missing and investigate repatriated ISIS fighters. 

Progress towards a peaceful future in northeast Syria cannot happen without answers for the families of the disappeared.