Recovering the Truth for Syria’s Missing and Forcibly Disappeared: Assessing Opportunity Structures and Guiding Principles for International Stakeholders
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Syria is today home to at least 150,000 cases of missing persons (Sarkin, “Humans Not Numbers” 6), many of whom were forcibly disappeared by conflict actors, leaving their family members and loved ones behind in a state of ambiguous loss and insecurity. The vast scope and extent of this issue, combined with its grave impacts upon the wellbeing of both the missing and their loved ones, constitute a humanitarian crisis of the utmost urgency. Given that finding missing persons is a complex task that requires forensic expertise and significant resources, support from international stakeholders will certainly be necessary. Thus, this thesis applies the framework of ‘truth recovery’ put forth by Iosif Kovras to examine the role of international stakeholders in the search for Syria’s missing. To give a coherent and in-depth understanding of the obstacles and opportunities which stakeholders face as they select truth recovery efforts to fund and pursue, the political opportunity structures surrounding efforts to find the missing are assessed for each of Syria’s three major autonomous or semiautonomous zones. Then, given existing conditions and barriers to the recovery of truth, this thesis offers three general principles which international stakeholders should abide by as they engage in efforts to uncover the fate of the missing. Those are: (1) prioritize forensic truth in the short term over the naming, shaming, and punishment of perpetrators, (2) begin the process of forensic truth recovery immediately, and (3) respect the sensitivities of victims and families and include them in truth recovery efforts.