Yesterday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) issued a public call for information regarding the whereabouts of three of its humanitarian workers kidnapped by the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria in 2013. It joins hundreds of families across Syria still seeking information about their missing loved ones.
Almost all parties to the Syrian conflict have contributed to the arbitrary detention or disappearance of tens of thousands of people. But the end of ISIS’ territorial control in Syria provides a rare opportunity for those desperately seeking to learn what happened to those the group kidnapped. Forces now in control of territory that ISIS once held in northeast Syria have the means to provide answers – if they make this issue priority.
According to local human rights organizations, ISIS took into custody at least 8,000 people, including activists, humanitarian workers, and journalists – both foreigners and Syrian – during its rule. The fate of the vast majority remains unknown. Whether ISIS killed them outright, or they died from airstrikes or other circumstances – or they somehow managed to survive – is uncertain and will forever inflict pain upon their families until the truth becomes known.
The ICRC’s call indicates there is an opportunity to find answers to questions that have been burning for years. Authorities and coalition members should recognize this, and commit to helping families find their loved ones, whether it be supporting efforts to uncover mass graves and identify remains, developing a centralized process for information-sharing with the families of the missing, or gathering information, within the bounds of the law, from captured ISIS suspects.
Now that the territorial battle against ISIS is over, it is time for authorities in control of the area and their international allies to begin unravelling the damage of the ISIS legacy