Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ghosts from the past: Syria's 30 years of fear

A grim report sheds light on the thousands of 'disappearances' during Hafez al-Assad's 30-year rule

By Robert Fisk

".....The eventual relief of Syrians that the young English-trained optometrist Bashar – a gentler figure than his ferocious father – had taken over was so great that no-one wished to recall the past. Why dig up a mass grave unless you intend to pour more blood into it?

The subsequent rule of Bashar has not produced the democratic "spring" in Syria which many Arab intellectuals had hoped for, a fact made all too clear in a report published in Washington this month by the Transitional Justice in the Arab World Project, supported by Freedom House. According to the report, Years of Fear, as many as 17,000 Syrians may have been "disappeared" during Hafez el-Assad's rule; the 117-page document contains heart-breaking accounts of disappearances and extra-judicial executions, and descriptions of the apparently vain 30-year wait of sons, wives and parents for the return of men who were almost certainly killed in the early 1980s.....

The report suggests that these disappearances indirectly affect up to a million Syrians – five per cent of the population. Amer, who was eight when his father was arrested, recalled: "I cannot speak with anyone about the issue of my father, because this induces fear and makes people suspicious... I have lived as a half orphan, although my father is not officially dead."

Some men were declared dead – and then reappeared alive, like the 16-year-old arrested in Aleppo who spent 14 years in prison...."

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