‘I have their blood with me’: new documentary charts plight of Syria’s many missing men, women and children
By James Macintyre 14 March 2017
President Bashar Assad has dismissed their stories as ‘fake news’, but a hard-hitting documentary broadcast next week will lay out the damning case of Syria’s missing: tens of thousands of men, women and children who have been disappeared into secret detention centres.
Syria’s Disappeared: The Case Against Assad tells this horrendous story through the powerful personal testimonies of three survivors alongside damning evidence smuggled out of Syria. The film follows victims, family members and international war crimes investigators as they campaign with increasing desperation for the release of the disappeared and fight to bring the perpetrators to justice.
The background to the documentary is the Arab Spring, which swept through Syria in 2011. Since then, tens of thousands have disappeared into Assad’s secret detention centres, with vast numbers having been tortured and thousands dying inside.
The programme focuses in on three cases.
Mazen Alhummada is from a left-wing family who had long opposed the Assad regime. He protested in his home city of Deir Ezzor, videoing the demonstrations. Mazen fled to Damascus after twice being arrested. He describes his third arrest in a cafe: ‘We were drinking tea and joking with each other, he tells the Radio Times. ‘Suddenly we were raided by the security forces. They put our shirts over our heads and put me in the trunk of the car.’
Held at a detention centre run by Airforce Intelligence, Mazen recalls being subject to appalling torture before being forced into a false confession.
Taken to a military hospital on account of his injuries, Mazen made a terrible discovery. ‘You go into the bathroom and you find three dead bodies on the floor. Stacked on top of one another. You close the door and open the other bathroom and find another two bodies. Hospital 601 [where he was taken] is really a slaughterhouse.’
Mariam Hallaq, a head teacher from Damascus, was a member of the ruling Baath Party and supported Assad. But her youngest son Ayham, a dentistry student, joined the protests and eventually she was converted to his cause thanks to his enthusiasm for change and for free elections.
Ayham began working with another key figure in the film, Mansour Al-Omari. The pair documented the disappearances for a Syrian human rights organisation, but their offices were raided by the security forces and they were detained and tortured. Ayham was released after three months.
But Mansour remained imprisoned, denied all contact with the world outside.
It was then that he and four of his cellmates came up with their extraordinary plan: to record the names and details of their fellow prisoners so that if one of them were released, they could inform their families where their loved ones were being held. They tore off pieces of their shirts, found a fragment of chicken bone to write with, and used rust and their own blood as ink.
Mansour explains: ‘We were worried that somebody could leak this news to the jailers. You could be hanged for it if they knew about it. One of us was a tailor and he said I can put it inside the hem of the shirt and collars – nobody will suspect it.’
Mansour was eventually chosen for release and he wore the shirt out and then contacted the families. Of his group of five detainees, only one other survived. ‘When I look at those shirt pieces, written with blood, blood of people who are still there, some of them I knew, I got news they are dead – I have their blood with me,’ he says. ‘These pieces of shirt are filled with their souls.’
The film also features Stephen Rapp, the former US Ambassador for Global Criminal Justice. Rapp has prosecuted some of the worst mass atrocity crimes in recent history, and he says the evidence against the Syrian regime is the strongest he has ever seen. That evidence includes over 600,000 pages of regime documentation smuggled out of Syria and into Europe, by the Commission for International Justice and Accountability.
Yet extraordinarily, action through the International Criminal Court has been blocked at the UN. Now, Rapp is working to open criminal cases against the Syrian regime in European national courts. The film shows the first case filed in Spain.
Published on Sep 11, 2015
Dan Snow travels to Syria to see how the country’s fascinating and tumultuous history is shaping the current civil war. For thousands of years empires and despots have fought for control of the strategically vital region, leaving behind stunning temples, castles and mosques, as well as a diverse cultural heritage. Those conflicts – from the Roman conquests to the crusades, from the French colonial invasion to the military coups of the 1960s – loom large in today’s conflict. For those confused by the seemingly random nature of the bloodshed and slaughter, Dan Snow unpicks the historic divisions between Sunnis and Alawites, Islamists and secularists, east and west.
Published on Apr 30, 2014
After three years of war and about 150 000 deaths, Syria is more torn apart than ever. But why is this war still going on ? How did the pacific “arab spring” become such a blood bath ? Here are some keys to understand how the syrian conflict turned into a civil, cold and holy war.
Cases of forced disappearance in Syria started when late Syrian president Hafez al-Assad started to face opposition from citizens in the late 1970s. While he was able to buy elite merchants of Damascus through Badr el-Deen Shallah, the general public was outraged by Assad’s policies in ruling the country and the rise of corruption. From then on, any voice opposing or questioning the Syrian government was silenced by forced disappearance or threats. According to Human Rights Watch, no fewer than 17,000 people disappeared during Assad’s 30-year rule.
Bashar al-Assad took his father’s policy further and considered any voice questioning anything about Syria’s political, economical, social, or otherwise policies should be monitored and when needed, detained and accused of weakening national empathy.
Often forced disappearance implies murder. The victim in such a case is abducted, illegally detained and often tortured during interrogation; killed, and the body hidden. The party committing the murder has deniability, as nobody provides evidence of the victim’s death.
Torture ‘routinely’ used in Syria
U.S. Says Europeans Tortured by Assad’s Death Machine
The Syrian crisis began in early 2011 when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began a brutal crackdown on growing peaceful protests throughout the country. With the use of tanks, attack helicopters, and artillery against protesters and the torture and execution of children, protests spread and opposition groups took up arms. The attacks and counter-attacks escalated into a full-fledged civil war between the Assad regime with allied militias and an array of opposition groups. In less than four years, 250,000 people have died. Entire neighborhoods are gone. Half the population has been uprooted. 3 Million refugees fled into neighbouring countries. Syria is barely recognizable!!!
On Syrian state TV in late 2011, Bashar al-Assad’s brother Maher said that when their father Hafez first took power, the Syrian population was around 5 million, and that the regime would be willing to reduce it to that again to maintain power (i.e. to kill and to expel around 18 million people).
International Holocaust Remembrance Day, is an international memorial day on 27 January commemorating the victims of the Holocaust. It commemorates the genocide that resulted in the death of an estimated 6 million Jews. The world vowed, “Never again.” But today, genocides and mass atrocities continue in Syria, the World remain silence!
Article: Syria Backgrounder