AFP reports that the Syrian government has "disappeared" 60,000 civilians since 2011 and is extorting the families trying to find their loved ones, according to Amenesty International.
Amnesty said in a report on Thursday that the Syrian government is running an "insidious black market in which family members desperate to find out the fates of their disappeared relatives are ruthlessly exploited for cash."
Families who turn to security services or government officials for information about "disappeared" relatives can face detention or additional legal troubles.
This has prompted a black market information trade, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Families are increasingly turning to underground middlemen, paying them high sums to collect information about missing relatives. In one instance, a man whose three brothers disappeared in 2012 paid over $150,000 trying to find their whereabouts.
His brothers were never found.
The author of the Amnesty International report, Nicolette Boehland, said that it appears that the government is directly financially benefiting from this black market information trade.
"We are certain that government and prison officials are profiting from the payments they receive in relation to disappearances, as this has been corroborated by hundreds of witnesses," Boehland told AFP.
"The practice is so widespread that it is difficult to believe the government is not aware of it and effectively condoning it by failing to take action to stop it."
Philip Luther, director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa program, states that the government's widespread enforced disappearances qualifies as crimes against humanity. Luther urges the UN Security Council to pursue the situation in the International Criminal Court.
"States supporting the government of Syria, including Iran and Russia... cannot wash their hands of the mass crimes against humanity and war crimes being committed with their backing," Luther said to AFP, encouraging the international community to investigate the disappearances.
The UN Security Council is already investigating the claims that chlorine gas was used on opposition-held villages in Syria. The use of chemical weapons is considered a war crime under the Geneva convention.
© 2000 - 2019 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)