The International Day of the Disappeared was marked with several events around Beirut Wednesday with the aim of drawing attention to those who were forcibly disappeared in both past conflicts in Lebanon, and the current war in Syria.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) held joint events at both Beirut Souks and in Ain al-Mreisseh to raise awareness of the many Lebanese who have disappeared since the start of the Civil War in 1975, right up to the present day. More than 40 years after the outbreak of hostilities, many Lebanese still do not know what happened to missing family members.
ICRC called upon Lebanese authorities to help uncover the fate of the missing. ICRC’s Lebanon spokesperson, Soraya Dali-Balta, told The Daily Star, “We have a constructive dialogue with the authorities about missing persons. Whenever we have bilateral meetings with the President [Michel Aoun] or with the Prime Minister [Saad Hariri] we try to push for passing a law on the missing. This hasn’t been done yet."
Wednesday’s events followed a two day weekend retreat organized by the ICRC, specifically for the families of missing persons, to help them develop the skills to raise awareness for their cause.
Later Wednesday evening, Amnesty International opened “10’s of 1,000’s: An Exhibition on Syria’s Missing and Disappeared,” at Station Beirut in Jisr al-Wati. The exhibition aims to shed light on the lives of some of the individuals who have been arbitrarily detained within Syria.
After the event was opened by the Head of Amnesty’s Regional Office, Lynn Maalouf, the Syrian artist Dima Nachawi, who currently lives in Beirut, read from a story that she had written and illustrated entitled, “The Secret of the Raindrops.”
Nachawi told The Daily Star that through her work she hoped to “participate in creating the cultural memory of Syria.” For her, art provides an alternative way of helping a desensitized audience interact with the Syrian crisis, which is “harsh, but I’m making it softer, so you can see it, understand it, and engage with it."
The final speaker of the evening was Fadwa Mahmoud, co-founder of the Syrian organization “Families for Freedom”, a pressure group that looks to secure freedom for those who have been disappeared or arbitrarily detained within Syria. Mahmoud told The Daily Star that the issue of detainees has become highly politicized in the context of some peace talks, such as the Russian-led talks in Astana.
She is against prisoner exchange being used as a potential bargaining tool as it may result in a handful of releases while thousands would remain in detention. However, she fully supports the negotiation of cease-fire and a cessation of hostilities, but believes the international community should apply any possible pressure on the Syrian Government to release all the disappeared.
“10’s of 1000’s: An Exhibition on Syria’s Missing and Disappeared” is being held at Station Beirut until Sept. 6.