On April 12, the US-based Center for Justice and Accountability revealed that it had filed a civil lawsuit against the Syrian regime for the widespread torture of Syrian citizens over the past 12 years. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Obada Mzaik, a Syrian-American who survived his detention and was able to leave the country.
From my home in one of the camps for displaced people in northwestern Syria, I heard news of the court case. Amid the devastation of war, the aftermath of the deadly earthquake that hit us in February, and my personal loss, this is much-needed good news.
This is an important moment, not just for me, but for all of us Syrians whose loved ones have been forcibly disappeared, arbitrarily detained without charge, tortured and even killed by the regime of Bashar al-Assad .
On January 5, 2012, my husband, Mohammad, a real estate contractor, was arrested and forcibly disappeared by the Syrian regime for helping organize peaceful demonstrations at the start of the Syrian revolution. It’s been over 11 years and I still don’t know where he is or what he’s doing.
Some survivors who saw him in the detention center told me that he was tortured and killed in 2014, but when his parents, my in-laws, asked the officials, they said he was not detained by them. We don’t know what to believe.
My daughter Mariam was only two months old when her father was arrested. She only knew his face from the picture I gave him. She loves to draw, and since discovering her love for art, she has been drawing his face over and over again. Maryam’s brother Abdulsalam was 6 years old when his father was forcibly disappeared, and her sister Zahraa was 4 years old, both of whom spoke of him frequently.
We have run out of reminders of the happy life we had before Muhammad was detained. The house where we lived in Maarat al-Nu’man was bombed several times, the last time. I also have a letter from Muhammad when he got engaged in January 2004. I have my engagement ring and a playing card that says “I love you” in his handwriting.
The word victim is sad and scary, but unfortunately, my children and I are victims of a brutal regime. Living in Syria, we cannot seek justice without an international tribunal to investigate all the crimes committed during the war in Syria.
This is why U.S. court cases are important to us, as well as all other cases in foreign courts. For example, in early April, a French court announced the indictment of three Syrian regime officials with complicity in crimes against humanity and war crimes. France even issued an international arrest warrant for them.
Last year, a German court sentenced former Syrian army officer Anwar Raslan to life in prison for crimes against humanity. In 2021, victims of the Assad regime’s chemical weapons attack filed lawsuits against Syrian officials in Sweden.
These court cases shed light on the system of detention and torture used to control and repress the Syrian people.
Although Syria has disappeared from international headlines, the Assad regime continues its horrific practice of enforced disappearances and abuse of Syrian citizens. Anyone who dares to stand up for freedom or democracy, dare to say a critical word against Assad, or even be in the wrong place at the wrong time may be arrested arbitrarily.
This also happens to Syrians who decide to return voluntarily or are expelled from the country where they sought asylum. Syria is not a ‘safe place’ for refugees to return to.
Many Syrians would rather live on the fringes of the law in refugee camps or camps for displaced people than bravely enter regime-controlled areas to obtain travel documents. I myself no longer have a valid passport to travel with my children to places where we would feel safer.
These court cases in the US, France, Germany and Sweden give us some hope. They keep us fighting to get our loved ones out of Assad’s prison. As many as 135,000 people are believed to remain in detention.
I, along with hundreds of detention survivors, detainee families, and activists, are working to build a global movement for their release. We launched the Freedom Movement for Syrians to Disappear to draw attention to their plight and put pressure on the international community to act.
These court cases brought abroad help us fight against the normalization of the Assad regime, remind the world of his heinous crimes, and hopefully encourage efforts to establish real peace. Because only when Syria is at peace can we have justice for the crimes committed against us.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.