Joint letter to the President of Iraq regarding the ongoing enforced disappearance of Abdel-Messih Sarkis

March 01, 2022

Two years after the abduction of Abdel-Messih Sarkis, MENA Rights Group and End Impunity in Iraq call on Iraqi President Barham Salih to take action to secure his release.

His Excellency Mr Barham Salih, President of Iraq

March 1, 2022

Re: Intervention to ensure the release of Abdel-Messih Sarkis

Dear Mr Barham Salih,

We are addressing you to request your intervention, as the President of Iraq, to ensure the immediate release of Abdel-Messih Sarkis who disappeared in the context of the Tishreen protests.

Today marks the two-year anniversary of the disappearance of Abdel-Messih Sarkis. On the evening of 1 March 2020, Abdel-Messih joined an anti-government demonstration in Baghdad’s Al Khulani square where he was then arrested by anti-riot police officers who were trying to forcibly disperse the demonstration.

In late 2020, his family were informed by two lawyers that Abdel-Messih was seen at Al Muthana airport prison, however when the family were made aware of this, they consulted the prison’s database but his name did not appear in the list of detainees. The family also visited the prison, but did not receive any information as to whether Abdel was truly being held there.

While we are aware that your presidency is confronted with significant challenges, we believe that certain pressing files, such as the ongoing disappearance of Abdel-Messih Sarkis, must urgently be dealt with, especially because his case is symptomatic of a deeply entrenched practice.

Iraq remains the country with the highest number of enforced disappearances in the world. Widespread under the former Ba’athist regime, this crime continued to be perpetrated after 2003 on a large scale by the newly formed security forces, as well as by members of terrorist groups, such as the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

More recently, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) found that “since the beginning of the [2019] demonstrations, Iraqi security forces arrested and detained thousands of demonstrators, typically without warrant and mostly without providing those arrested the means to contact their families or defence lawyers, prompting fears that those arrested were being held incommunicado or had disappeared.”

In 2010, your predecessor, Mr Jalal Talabani, ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED), paving the way for the entry force of the Convention.

Since then, the country has not yet provided an effective legislative framework to implement it into domestic law: a draft law on the Protection of Persons from Enforced Disappearance is still pending before the Council of Representatives. In the absence of such a framework, we would like to remind you that the Iraqi authorities are under the obligation to combat this heinous crime, which may amount to a crime against humanity under article 5 of the ICPPED when conducted on a widespread and systematic basis.

As of April 2021, the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) has registered 492 cases under its urgent action procedure. The CED is an international body of independent experts which aims to monitor the implementation of the ICPPED by State parties.

It has registered 28 requests for urgent action with regard to the disappearance of persons who had participated in the protests that had begun in October 2019 in Baghdad, or who had provided some kind of support to demonstrators. Although 12 of these urgent actions have been closed after the persons were located and released, 13 of those requests remained pending before the CED as of 1 April 2021.

Among those is the case of Mr Abdel-Messih Sarkis. Despite repeated requests to clarify the fate and whereabouts of Abdel, the Government of Iraq has yet to respond.

The recent arrest of Lt. Col. Omar Nazar, a senior officer belonging to the Iraqi Government, for suppressing demonstrators during the 2019-2020 demonstrations, may constitute an important first step toward accountability.

As the guarantor of the Iraqi Constitution under article 67, we ask you to seize this opportunity to ensure that relevant state institutions take all the necessary measures to search for, locate and protect Mr Abdel-Messih Sarkis. In case his location can be confirmed, he should be put immediately under the protection of the law and his family should be informed of his current fate and whereabouts. The State of Iraq should take all measures that are necessary to identify the perpetrators of Mr Sarkis’s enforced disappearance while ensuring that those responsible are brought to justice.

We thank you for your understanding,

End Impunity in Iraq & MENA Rights Group

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