18 Nov 2019
night, the United States brought the world's number one terrorist leader to
justice," US President Donald Trump announced at the White House on
October 27. "Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead."
appeared jubilant as he shared with the American public the details of the
operation that led to the killing of the infamous leader of the Islamic State
of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS). He used the news of al-Baghdadi's
demise, which came only a few weeks after his controversial decision to pull US
troops out of Syria, to prove to the world that his administration's policies
in the country are working and the war against ISIL has been won.
death, however, is unlikely to help Syrians like me, whose loved ones have been
abducted and imprisoned by the group. Since its establishment in April 2013,
ISIL detained at least 8,143 individuals across Syria. Today, after the group
was pushed out of most parts of Syria and its leader killed, the fates of these
people remain unknown.
and best friend, Samar, 31, is one of these missing people.
in Cairo studying for a master's degree in archaeology in 2011 when the Arab
uprisings broke out across the Middle East, including in our home country,
Syria. As an energetic student who believed in human rights, she used every
break she had from her studies to return home. She helped organise protests
against the regime and volunteered to work with internally displaced people streaming
into Aleppo as fighting between regime and rebel forces intensified in its
2013, she was walking with her fiance and our mother in our hometown of Atarib
in northwest Syria, when four masked men grabbed her and dragged her into their
car. Later, her kidnappers used her phone to log into her social media accounts
and told us that they are ISIL members; they threatened us that we will also
meet a similar fate.
Samar, like many others, was targeted simply for trying to fight for the most
basic rights and freedoms for her people in an area where ISIL was active.
I have been
denied the opportunity to walk, eat, chat and laugh with my sister for more
than six years, but I refuse to be denied justice for her abduction. I want
those who snatched her from me to stand trial and answer for what they did to
my sister and my family. I believe only when we achieve justice for our missing
loved ones can we say the war against ISIL has been won.
achieve justice for my sister and thousands of others like her, the body of
evidence that ties specific ISIL members to abductions and unlawful detentions
needs to be processed and preserved. Mass graves, former detention centres and
ISIL camps must be combed through for evidence by specialist teams, with the
findings communicated to the relevant authorities.
self-congratulatory declarations by US officials announcing the "end of
ISIL", none of this is happening. Mass graves found in areas previously
held by ISIL are being exhumed without the supervision of experienced
investigators and trained forensic analysts who can guarantee evidence is
properly preserved and used efficiently to identify victims and support
detention centres are also not being treated with care. Physical evidence found
in these facilities that can help identify victims, such as clothes and toys,
are being destroyed, as well as ISIL's records on the prisoners. Even the
walls, on which the detainees painstakingly scratched their names and thoughts,
are being painted over.
The US has
been offering some limited support to local teams, but thanks to Trump's
decision to withdraw US troops from Syria, there is now an increased risk of
vital evidence being destroyed or falling into the hands of Bashar al-Assad's
recent jailbreaks by ISIL fighters in Syria mean individuals who potentially
hold vital information on the fates of our missing loved ones have managed to
avoid punishment and further interrogation.
there are plans for foreign ISIL fighters who are currently detained in Syria
to be sent to Iraq, where they would likely be imprisoned or executed, rather
than being repatriated to their home countries to face trial. There may,
therefore, not be any proper investigation into the crimes these people
committed or collection of information about the people they imprisoned or
believe in freedom and democracy have been fighting against al-Assad's brutal
regime on the one hand and the extremist ideology of ISIL on the other for
years. Today, as global powers try to wash their hands of the mess they created
in our country, we continue to struggle for justice and accountability.
want to see every person who contributed to our suffering, from the enforcers
of the Syrian regime to the ISIL fighters, held to account. At the very least,
I want to learn what happened to my sister.
If she has
been killed, I want to know how she spent her last moments.
If she is
alive, I want to find her and bring her back to our family.
speculate that she may have been passed onto another extremist group or handed
to regime forces. Others suggest she is being held in the ISIL camps in
northern Syria. Whatever the case, whatever her fate might have been, I want to
know, and I have the right to know.
international community and the global powers that are active in our country
have repeatedly failed us in our fight for justice. All, however, is not lost.
We can still get the investigations on track, enforce procedures that would
guarantee the preservation of evidence when dealing with mass graves, former
detention centres and ISIL camps. We can make sure ISIL fighters who are
currently in custody are properly interrogated to reveal what they know about the
missing and the dead.
still reunite some families and help others find closure by finally informing
them of the fates of their long lost loved ones. To achieve this the
international community needs to act swiftly and demand the relevant authorities
make investigating the missing ISIL abductees a priority.
missing people continue to suffer ISIL's oppression not knowing the fate of
their loved ones. We cannot declare the "end of ISIL" until justice
has been served.
Headline: Baghdadi's death did not bring his victims any closer to justice
Source: The Al-Jazeera