Syrian lawyer Razan Zaitouna.

© 2011 Reuters

(Geneva) - To mark the 38th birthday (on April 29) of missing human rights defender and lawyer Razan Zaitouneh, head of the Violations Documentation Centre in Syria (VDC), winner of the 2011 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought and the 2011 Anna Politkovskaya Award of RAW in WAR (Reach All Women In War), the undersigned human rights organizations today reiterate their call for her immediate release, as well as that of her missing colleagues Samira Khalil, Nazem Hamadi and Wa’el Hamada.

On December 9, 2013, the four human rights defenders, collectively known as the “Duma Four”, were abducted during a raid by a group of armed men on the offices of the VDC in Duma, near Damascus. There has been no news of their whereabouts or health since.

The VDC is active in monitoring and reporting on human rights violations in Syria and the undersigned organizations believe that the abduction of the four activists was a direct result of their peaceful human rights work. Their ongoing detention forms part of a wider pattern of threats and harassment by both government forces and non-state actors seeking to prevent human rights defenders exposing abuses.

In the months prior to her abduction Razan Zaitouneh wrote about threats she had been receiving and informed human rights activists outside Syria that they originated from local armed groups in Duma. The most powerful armed group operating in Duma at the time of the abductions is the Army of Islam headed by Zahran Alloush. In April 2014, Razan Zaitouneh’s family issued a statement saying they held Zahran Alloush responsible for her and her colleagues’ wellbeing given the large presence his group maintained in the area.

The undersigned organizations, as well as other activists, have been calling for the release of the “Duma Four” since their abductions. Today they again urge the Army of Islam and other armed groups operating in the area to take immediate steps to release the abducted VDC staff, or investigate their abduction and work for their release. They further urge governments that support these groups, as well as religious leaders and others who may have influence over them, to press for such action, in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 2139, which “strongly condemns” the abduction of civilians and demands and immediate end to this practice.

Razan Zaitouneh has been one of the key lawyers defending political prisoners in Syria since 2001. She has played a key role in efforts to defend the universality of human rights and support independent groups and activists in Syria. Along with a number of other activists, she established the VDC and co-founded the Local Coordination Committees (LCCs), which co-ordinate the work of local committees in various cities and towns across Syria. She also established the Local Development and Small Projects Support Office, which assists non-governmental organizations in besieged Eastern Ghouta.

Samira Khalil has been a long-time political activist in Syria and had been detained on several occasions by the Syrian authorities as a result of her peaceful activism. Before her abduction, she was working to help women in Duma support themselves by initiating small income-generating projects. Wa’el Hamada, an active member of the VDC and co-founder of the LCC network had also been detained by the Syrian authorities. Before his abduction he was working, together with Nazim Hamadi, to provide humanitarian assistance to the residents of besieged Eastern Ghouta.

 

Signatories:

  1. Alkarama Foundation (in Geneva)
  2. Amman Center for Human Rights Studies
  3. Amnesty International
  4. Arab Foundation for Development and Citizenship
  5. Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
  6. Arab Organization for Human Rights in Syria
  7. Badael Foundation
  8. Bahrain Centre for Human Right
  9. Defending  Prisoners of Conscience in Syria Organization
  10. Cairo Center for Development (CCD)
  11. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHR)
  12. Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)
  13. Centre for Democracy and Civil Rights in Syria
  14. Committees for the Defending  Democratic Freedoms and Human Rights in Syria
  15. El-Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence
  16. Enmaa Center for Democracy and Human Rights
  17. Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN)
  18. Fraternity Center for Democracy and Civil Society
  19. Front Line Defenders (FLDs)
  20. Freedom House
  21. Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR)
  22. Human Rights First Society , Saudi Arabia
  23. Human Rights Organization in Syria - MAF
  24. Human Rights Watch (HRW)
  25. Humanist Institute for Co-operation with Developing Countries (HIVOS)
  26. Hand in Hand Organization , Syria
  27. Monitor for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia
  28. Index on Censorship
  29. International Media Support (IMS)
  30. International Centre for Supporting Rights and Freedoms
  31. International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN)
  32. International Service For Human Rights (ISHR)
  33. Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR)
  34. International  Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  35. Iraqi Women Network
  36. Iraqi Journalists Rights Defense  Association(IJRDA)
  37. Iraqi Network  for Social Media (INSM)
  38. Kurdish Committee for Human Rights in Syria (observer)
  39. Kurdish Organization for Human Rights in Syria (DAD)
  40. Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation
  41. Lawyers for Lawyers
  42. Lulua Center for Human Rights
  43. Madad NGOs
  44. Maharat Foundation
  45. MENA Media Monitoring group
  46. Metro Centre to Defend Journalists in Iraqi Kurdistan
  47. National Organization for Human Rights in Syria
  48. Nazra for Feminist Studies
  49. No Peace Without Justice (NPWJ)
  50. One World Foundation (OWF)
  51. Omani Observatory for Human Rights
  52.  World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  53. Pax for Peace – Netherland
  54. Pen International
  55. Reach All Women in War (RAW)
  56. Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
  57. Sawt Al Niswa
  58. Sentiel Human Rights Defenders
  59. Sisters Arab Forum for Human Rights (SAF)
  60. Syrian American Council (SAC)
  61. Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression  (SCM)
  62. Syrian Center for Legal Researches & Studies
  63. Syrian Journalists Association
  64. Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR)
  65. Syrian League for Citizenship
  66. The Regional Coalition for Women Human Rights Defenders In Middle East and North Africa
  67. Tunisian Initiative for Freedom of Expression
  68. Violations Documentation Center in Syria (VDC)
  69. Vivarta
  70.  Yemeni Organization for Defending  Human Rights and Democratic  Freedom