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Families whose relatives disappeared in the custody of the Islamic State (ISIS) while the group controlled parts of Syria struggle to learn what happened to victims of ISIS.

The Coalition of Families of Kidnapped by ISIS, a new organization of Syrian families with missing relatives, and Human Rights Watch are holding a joint news conference on May 14, 2019, in Paris.

The international coalition against ISIS should make information-sharing with families a priority and help create a formal mechanism to address the issue of the missing and to allow families to register their cases, Human Rights Watch said. This mechanism should maintain a database of information on the missing, help under-resourced local authorities in northeast Syria exhume mass graves, and process appropriately obtained information on the status of those ISIS held.

Nadim Houry, terrorism and counterterrorism director at Human Rights Watch said:

“Now that the territorial battle against ISIS is over, the anti-ISIS coalition should address the terrible ISIS legacy.

“A critical issue for thousands of families is uncovering what happened to those ISIS abducted.”

While the full scale of the missing is not known, the Syrian Network for Human Rights has documented 8,143 cases of individuals detained by ISIS whose fate remains unknown. Human Rights Watch has also documented numerous cases of activists, humanitarian workers, journalists, and anti-ISIS fighters, as well as residents who had a dispute with local ISIS members, whom the group detained and whose fate remains unknown.

In some cases, family members saw ISIS taking their relatives into custody, while in other cases former prisoners said they had seen the missing person in ISIS detention centers.

Families of those missing told Human Rights Watch that they had been hopeful that the battlefield defeat of ISIS would quickly lead to information about their loved ones. However, neither the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) nor the US-led international coalition has created a mechanism or entity to handle queries from family members. Read more

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