Statement by the Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid, Christoph Strässer, on the anniversary of the abduction of Razan Zaitouneh and her colleagues in Douma, Syria
On 9 December 2013, the Syrian lawyer and human rights defender Razan Zaitouneh and her colleagues Wa’el Hamada, Samira Khalil and Nazem Hamadi were abducted in Douma, a suburb of Damascus. Their whereabouts remain unknown to this day.
Despite a plea from the families of the abducted activists in April this year, the parties to the conflict have unfortunately not done anything so far to help shed light on the case. Razan Zaitouneh and her colleagues had campaigned for many years for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Syria. They are symbols of peaceful resistance against oppression and violence who documented human rights abuses and war crimes by all parties to the conflict in Syria in their work.
I call on the relevant actors and parties to the conflict to do everything in their power to ensure the safety of the four abducted activists and to facilitate their release.
On 9 December 2013, the lawyer and human rights defender Razan Zaitouneh, her husband Wa’el Hamada, the activist Samira Khalil and the lawyer Nazem Hamadi were abducted from the office of their human rights organisations, Violations Documentation Center (VDC) and Local Development and Small Projects Support (LDSPS), in Douma, a suburb of Damascus. According to VDC, an unidentified armed group stormed the office, confiscated laptops and documents, and abducted the four activists. Since then, there has been no information on their state of health or whereabouts. No group has claimed responsibility for the abductions.
In the months leading up to her abduction, Razan Zaitouneh received several threats from local armed groups. Through their work in VDC, Zaitouneh and her team documented human rights abuses both by the Syrian military and security forces, as well as by armed opposition groups.
In April 2014, Zaitouneh’s family issued a statement in which they called on Zahran Alloush, the leader of what was then the dominant armed group (Jaysh al-Islam) in Douma, to help shed light on the fate of the abducted activists. Forty-five human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Reporters without Borders, subsequently signed a statement calling for Razan Zaitouneh’s release.