Human Rights Tragedy in Syria: Yacoub Hanna Shamoun
Yacoub Hanna Shamoun, an Assyrian (Syriac), was born in the town of Amouda, Syria in 1963. In 1972, due to economic hardship, his family moved to Lebanon seeking a better life. At the time, Yacoub was only 9 years-old and his brother Fawaz (born 1966) was only 6. As teenagers in Lebanon, Yacoub and his brother Fawaz gave up schooling at an early age and began working multiple jobs in order to assist their struggling family.
Syrian laws require mandatory military service of a male once reaching the age of 18. This prohibited the Shamoun family from returning to Syria for fear of prosecution of their children Yacoub and Fawaz, as they had reached the age of 18 and did not report to military duty. However, in 1985, the late Syrian President Hafez al-Assad issued a general pardon for all individuals who had not reported to military service, declaring that anyone who had not reported will not be prosecuted but rather will be allowed to join the military service. Many Syrian families rejoiced this amnesty, including the Shamoun family who returned to Syria and their sons Yacoub and Fawaz reported to the Military Service Division in Qamishli, Syria.
On July 2, 1985, the Syrian State Security Forces arrested both brothers Yacoub and Fawaz Hanna Shamoun from their home and took them to the State Security Headquarters in Qamishli, where they were detained and tortured for weeks. After that the two brothers completely vanished and their whereabouts became unknown. Despite numerous attempts by the family to learn more about them, they were always denied any information about their children. Some even told the family to consider them dead and to give up hope of seeing their sons alive again and to stop pursuing this issue.
However, 11 years later, in 1996, the younger sibling Fawaz Hanna Shamoun was released without a trial. When Fawaz was erroneously arrested in 1985, he was 19 years-old, and when he was released in 1996, he was 30 years of age. Upon the release of Fawaz, the family’s hopes of seeing their sons alive were ignited once again. But the fate of “Yacoub Hanna Shamoun” remained unknown for years. In 2001, and after numerous attempts, the family was informed by one of Syria’s Security Agencies that their son Yacoub is in the Saydnaya Prison, where many political prisoners are detained without trial.
For years, Yacoub has been suffering from inflammation of the liver, and there are fears that due to lack of medical treatment, his condition has worsened and has developed into cancer. In recent years, the family was given more assurances that Yacoub is still alive in the Saydnaya Prison, where he has been detained without a trial for 26 years. When Yacoub Hanna Shamoun was immorally arrested in 1985, he was 22 years-old, today he is 48 and still awaiting trial.
It is worth noting that throughout the last 26 years, there have been many general pardons granted by the current and late Syrian President. Despite the fact that Yacoub Hanna Shamoun is covered by these pardons, he was never released nor allowed contact with his family or lawyer. On June 1, 2011, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad issued a general pardon granting full amnesty to all political prisoners in Syria, and although hundreds of political prisoners were released, but Yacoub Hanna Shamoun still remains in prison.
Attiya Tunc, a member of the Dutch parliament, who is actively drawing attention to the case of Yacoub Hanna Shamoun informed MP Albert Jan Maat about this subject. After studying the case, he wrote a letter to the Syrian embassy in the Netherlands.
From one repressive regime to another, the current situation of ethnoreligious minorities in Syria depicts a faint picture of the appalling and austere treatment of the Syrian detainees. Mr. Yacoub Hanna Shamoun, an Assyrian Christian from Syria has been detained without due process for over twenty years in Syria's horrendous AlSaydnaia prison. He has repeatedly been denied access to a legal representative and has been kept in isolation from his family, the legal system and human rights institutions.
The tragic story of Mr. Shamoun began in 1985 upon his return to his ancestral homeland from seeking employment in Lebabnon since 1972 with his family. Their return was sparked by a fallacious amnesty issued by Syria's late President Hafez Al-Assad to all citizens who had failed to serve the required military term in late 1985, as was Mr. Yacoub's case. Mr. Yacoub and his brother Fawaz returned to Syria and surrendered themselves to the Conscription Department in Qamishly (a town located in the Syrian Jazeera, south of Nisibis, southeast Turkey) to serve the required military term as their national duty. To their surprise, the State Security Forces of the treacherous Baath government detained the two men on the night of July 1st 1985 and remanded them to the custody of the local prison where they had been tortured and beaten for a month.
The daunting story of the two long lost brothers did not end there. The two brothers were taken to a remote prison where they would remain for many years without any contact with the outside world or their terrified family in Qamishly. The family had presumed the two brothers dead, until 1996 when Fawaz, the younger brother born in 1966 in the Assyrian town of Qamishly, was released from prison and returned home. The anxious family was in disbelief, presuming their sons had been lost forever. However, a dark cloud loomed over the family regarding the unknown whereabouts of their eldest son, Yacoub born in Qamishly in 1963. It was not until 2001 when the Security Department informed the family of Yacoub's whereabouts, in the town of Saydnaya where he continues to be illicitly detained for over twenty years without due process or a release date in the near future.
The Syrian Arab Republic was amongst the first nations to ratify the United Nation's Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on April 21 st 1969 which affirms the following under Article 9:
Astoundingly, Syria also became a signatory to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment on August 19 th 2004 which states the following under Article 4:
Accordingly, the treatment of the Shamoun brothers illustrates the grotesque reality of the dictatorial nature of the Baath regime and its treatment of ethnoreligious minorities such as Mr. Yacoub Shamoun and Mr. Fawaz Shamoun. The treatment Mr. Yacoub negates the rhetoric regarding the Syrian government's transparency, fairness, legitimacy and respect for both national and international legal instruments. The flagrant violations of Mr. Yacoub's indispensable human rights and dignity as outlined in a selection of international legal instruments that the Syrian government has ratified, only serves to confirm the repressive and inept nature of the government in implementing efficient, just and respectable standards of human rights for its citizens.
As such, the Council for Assyrian Research and Development (herein CARD) urges the Syrian authorities to take immediate action in the release of Mr. Yacoub Hanna Shamoun and to ensure his safety and security in the Syrian Arab Republic as an ethnoreligious and indigenous minority. This must be necessitated in accordance with various international legal instruments that serve to uphold the rule of law for the appropriate and impartial treatment of detainees. CARD also urges the government to take proactive measures in ensuring the implementation and application of appropriate and necessary legal mechanisms that would emulate a reasonable and efficient due process and judicial system to protect its citizens from the oppressive nature of the state. Being under increasing international scrutiny for its poor human rights trackrecord, the Syrian government can show its commitment to fairness and human rights by releasing Mr. Shamoun and giving him the right to a fair trial.