A year on, no information on the Douma Four
The prominent Syrian human rights defenders Razan Zaitouneh, Samira Khalil, Wa’el Hamada and Nazem Hamadi – the Douma Four – remain missing a year after their abduction, 71 organizations** said today, including Hivos. The four were abducted in Douma, a city near Damascus under the control of armed opposition groups. We are urging that they be released immediately..
On 9 December 2013, at about 10:40 pm, a group of armed men stormed into the office of the Violations Documentation Center in Syria (VDC), a Syrian human rights monitoring group, in Douma and abducted Razan Zaitouneh, the head of the center, and her colleagues – Wa’el Hamada, who is also her husband, Samira Khalil and Nazem Hamadi. The four human rights defenders have not been heard of since.
The armed groups exercising de facto control over Douma include the Army of Islam, headed by Zahran Alloush, which is part of the Islamic Front, a coalition of armed groups. The groups should immediately release the four human rights defenders if they are in the groups’ custody, or work toward ensuring they are released unharmed and without delay. Countries that support these groups, as well as religious leaders and others who may have influence over them, should also press for the immediate release of the four activists and for an end to abductions of civilians.
Razan Zaitouneh has been one of the key lawyers defending political prisoners in Syria since 2001, playing a key role in efforts to defend human rights for all and protect independent groups and activists in Syria. Along with a number of other activists, she established the VDC, which monitors human rights violations and records casualties in Syria. She co-founded the Local Coordination Committees (LCCs), which coordinates the work of local committees in various cities and towns across Syria. Razan also established the Local Development and Small Projects Support Office (LDSPS), which assists non-governmental organizations in besieged Eastern Ghouta.
As a result, both by the Syrian authorities and armed opposition groups threatened her. She had been receiving threats for several months before her abduction. She described some of these threats in an article she wrote in the online news outlet Now Lebanon. She had also informed human rights activists outside Syria in September 2013 that she was being threatened by local armed groups in Douma. In April 2014, Razan Zaitouneh’s family issued a statement holding Zahran Alloush responsible for her and her colleagues’ wellbeing, given the large presence his group maintains in the area.
Razan Zaitouneh and her colleagues appear to have been abducted and arbitrarily deprived of their liberty as punishment for their legitimate activities as human rights defenders. Such actions are prohibited by international humanitarian law and are contrary to international human rights standards. The armed groups in control of the area and the governments who support them should do everything in their power to facilitate the release of Razan Zaitouneh, Wa’el Hamada, Samira Khalil and Nazem Hamadi.
** Fifteen other organization joined the statement after releasing it, bringing the number of signatories to 71 civil society organizations around the world.