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Prominent human rights defenders Razan Zaitouneh, Samira Al-Khalil, Wa’el Hamada and Nazim Hammadi – the Douma four – should be released immediately, 32 human rights organisations said today, on the third anniversary of their abduction.
On 09 December 2013, a group of armed men stormed into the office of the Violations Documentation Centre in Syria, a local human rights monitoring group in Douma, in Damascus Countryside, and abducted Razan Zaitouneh, the head of centre, her husband, Wael Hamada, and colleagues- Samira Al-Khalil and Nazem Hamadi. There has been no news of their whereabouts since then.
The armed groups exercising de facto control over Douma include the Army of Islam, 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 defended political prisoners in Syria since 2001 and has played a key role in the promotion and protection of human rights through her brave work as a lawyer, activist and journalist. Since the beginning of the crisis in 2011, Razan Zaitouneh has played 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, and co-founded the Local Coordination Committees, which coordinates the work of local committees in various cities and towns across Syria. She also established the Local Development and Small Projects Support Office, which assists non-governmental organisations in besieged Eastern Ghouta. As a result of her work, she received threats from the Syrian government and armed opposition groups in Douma several months before her abduction.
Samira Khalil has been a longtime political activist in Syria. The Syrian government had detained her between 1987 and 1991 for her activism. She later worked in a publishing house before shifting her efforts to working with the families of detainees and writing about detention in Syria. Before her abduction, she was working to help women in Douma support themselves by initiating small income generating projects.
Wael Hamada was also an activist before the 2011 uprising in Syria. When peaceful protests first broke out in the country in 2011, the government detained and later released Hamada. He is an active member and co-founder of the Local Coordination Committees and the VDC. Before his abduction, Wael Hamada was working to provide desperately needed humanitarian assistance to the residents of besieged Eastern Ghouta.
Nazim Hammadi, a lawyer and poet, was one of the most prominent volunteer defenders of political prisoners before and after the 2011 uprising in Syria. He contributed to founding the Local Coordination Committees and also worked to provide humanitarian assistance to residents of Eastern Ghouta.
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 Al-Khalil and Nazem Hamadi.
List of signatories:
To mark the 38th birthday (on April 29) of missing human rights defender and lawyer Razan Zaitouneh, head of the Violations Documentation Centre in Syria (VDC), winner of the 2011 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought and the 2011 Anna Politkovskaya Award of RAW in WAR (Reach All Women In War), the undersigned human rights organizations today reiterate their call for her immediate release, as well as that of her missing colleagues Samira Khalil, Nazem Hamadi and Wa’el Hamada.
On December 9, 2013, the four human rights defenders, collectively known as the “Duma Four”, were abducted during a raid by a group of armed men on the offices of the VDC in Duma, near Damascus. There has been no news of their whereabouts or health since.
The VDC is active in monitoring and reporting on human rights violations in Syria and the undersigned organizations believe that the abduction of the four activists was a direct result of their peaceful human rights work. Their ongoing detention forms part of a wider pattern of threats and harassment by both government forces and non-state actors seeking to prevent human rights defenders exposing abuses.
In the months prior to her abduction Razan Zaitouneh wrote about threats she had been receiving and informed human rights activists outside Syria that they originated from local armed groups in Duma. The most powerful armed group operating in Duma at the time of the abductions is the Army of Islam headed by Zahran Alloush. In April 2014, Razan Zaitouneh’s family issued a statement saying they held Zahran Alloush responsible for her and her colleagues’ wellbeing given the large presence his group maintained in the area.
The undersigned organizations, as well as other activists, have been calling for the release of the “Duma Four” since their abductions. Today they again urge the Army of Islam and other armed groups operating in the area to take immediate steps to release the abducted VDC staff, or investigate their abduction and work for their release. They further urge governments that support these groups, as well as religious leaders and others who may have influence over them, to press for such action, in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 2139, which “strongly condemns” the abduction of civilians and demands and immediate end to this practice.
Razan Zaitouneh has been one of the key lawyers defending political prisoners in Syria since 2001. She has played a key role in efforts to defend the universality of human rights and support independent groups and activists in Syria. Along with a number of other activists, she established the VDC and co-founded the Local Coordination Committees (LCCs), which co-ordinate the work of local committees in various cities and towns across Syria. She also established the Local Development and Small Projects Support Office, which assists non-governmental organizations in besieged Eastern Ghouta.
Samira Khalil has been a long-time political activist in Syria and had been detained on several occasions by the Syrian authorities as a result of her peaceful activism. Before her abduction, she was working to help women in Duma support themselves by initiating small income-generating projects. Wa’el Hamada, an active member of the VDC and co-founder of the LCC network had also been detained by the Syrian authorities. Before his abduction he was working, together with Nazim Hamadi, to provide humanitarian assistance to the residents of besieged Eastern Ghouta.
Amman Center for Human Rights Studies
Arab Foundation for Development and Citizenship
Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
Arab Organization for Human Rights in Syria
Bahrain Centre for Human Right
Defending prisoners of conscience in Syria Organization
Cairo Center for Development (CCD)
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)
Centre for Democracy and Civil Rights in Syria
Committees for the Defending Democratic Freedoms and Human Rights in Syria
El-Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence
Enmaa Center for Democracy and Human Rights
Fraternity Center for Democracy and civil society
Front Line Defenders (FLDs)
Gulf Center for Human Rights
Human Rights Fist Society , Saudi Arabia
Human Rights Organization in Syria – MAF
Human Rights watch (HRW)
Humanist Institute for Co-operation with Developing Countries (HIVOS)
Hand in Hand Organization , Syria
Monitor for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia
Index on Censorship
International Media Support (IMS)
International Centre for Supporting Rights and Freedoms
International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN)
International Service For Human Rights (ISHR)
The Tunisian Initiative for Freedom of Expression
Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR)
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Iraqi Women Network
Iraqi Journalists Rights Defense Association(IJRDA)
Iraqi Network for social Media
Kurdish Committee for Human Rights in Syria (observer)
Kurdish Organization for Human Rights in Syria (DAD)
Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation
Lawyers for Lawyers
Lulua Center for Human Rights
MENA Media Monitoring group
Metro Centre to Defend Journalists in Iraqi Kurdistan
National Organization for Human Rights in Syria
Nazra for Feminist Studies
No Peace Without Justice (NPWJ)
One World Foundation (OWF)
Omani Observatory for Human Rights
World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Pax for Peace – Netherland
Reach All Women in War (RAW)
Reporters Without Boarders (RSF)
Sentiel Human Rights Defenders
Syrian American Council (SAC)
Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)
Syrian Center for Legal Researches & Studies
Syrian Journalists Association
Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR)
Syrian League for Citizenship
Violations Documentation Center in Syria (VDC)
Yemeni organization for defending human rights and democratic freedom