Koenders urges release of Syrian human rights activists – heroes of our time

On Sunday, the UN International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, foreign minister Bert Koenders called for the immediate release of ‘the Douma Four’, a group of Syrian human rights defenders that had been active since the start of the peaceful uprising against the regime of President Assad in 2011.

‘There is a chilling silence surrounding the mass murders and other crimes committed by the Assad regime,’ Mr Koenders remarked. ‘Our commitment to fighting ISIS should not lead to when it comes to massive human rights violations perpetrated by Assad.’ The minister went on to call the Douma Four ‘heroes of our time’.

Razan Zeitouneh, Samira al-Khalil, Wael Hamade and Nazem Hammadi are four Syrians who have been taking a stand for human rights at risk to their own lives. Through the Violations Documentation Centre, an NGO, the four worked to record human rights violations committed against the Syrian people, until the day they were abducted from their offices in Douma by armed men. Since then, nothing has been heard from them.

‘These people and their organisation do important work. This is the time to gather information for a future trial. This is one way to ensure that the guilty parties do not evade punishment,’ Mr Koenders said. The Netherlands supports the work of human rights defenders in Syria. Mr Koenders takes the position that the situation in Syria warrants investigation by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The minister has called on the powers that be to grant the UN Commission of Inquiry access to the war-torn country. The Netherlands has already contributed €750,000 to the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre, one of the organisations that is documenting crimes and human rights violations in that country.