Wafa Mustafa, the voice of the invisible victims of Syria

The photo made the rounds on the social networks of the Syrian diaspora, a little less on the media, after ten years of conflict in Syria. Wafa Mustafa sits in court in Koblenz, Germany, holding the portrait of her father Ali, surrounded by photos of some of the 100,000 Syrian missing, the vast majority of whom are in the hands of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

It was in June 2020, at the opening of the trial of Anwar Raslan, a former colonel in the Syrian intelligence services who had taken refuge in Germany. He was convicted of crimes against humanity, in this case fifty-eight murders and 4,000 cases of torture. A priori, Raslan is not linked to the disappearance of my father but this trial was obviously a unique moment to remind the world of the fate of the disappeared , explains Wafa Mustafa, 31, reached by phone in Berlin, where she has lived since 2016.

“It’s an important moment”

This Thursday, January 13, 2022, the verdict will fall for Anwar Raslan. Whatever, this trial will have the merit of recording crimes against humanity. For us Syrians, it is obvious, but it will be said by an independent judicial authority. Supporting evidence, in particular thanks to the 28,000 photos of tortured bodies, exfiltrated by César, a military deserter. Authenticated by experts, the negatives were analyzed by forensic experts who highlighted the systematism of torture, constituting a crime against humanity.

Also read. REPORTING. From Berlin, these vigilantes track down the Syrian executioners

It’s an important moment, resumes Wafa Mustafa, but this trial cannot do justice to the Syrians as long as there are still people to save, like my father. But the crimes continue, the disappearances continue, new kidnappings take place. Today, now.

It’s unbearable not to know

Opposing the regime, Ali Mustafa was arrested at his home in Damascus on July 2, 2013. Since then? No news. The authorities have never admitted to detaining him. Like so many other families of the disappeared, Wafa, her mother and her two sisters sought contacts, paid bribes to officials or dubious intermediaries. For a bit of info. In vain.

It destroys you from within. It’s so unbearable not to know that after a while, some prefer not to forget, it’s impossible, but not to talk about it anymore. To shut up. This is why dictatorships use the weapon of enforced disappearance.

Wafa Mustafa lives in his father’s name. The thousands of families of the disappeared who support her are both a driving force and a burden, when she speaks before the UN, as in July 2020, to demand that the crimes in Syria cease.

I was already an activist before my father disappeared. It’s my life, but some mornings are difficult… I have no choice. Remembering my father, his favorite music, cuisine or color is my way of resisting. Behind the figure of 150,000 missing, there are lives.

Ali was a fan of the great singer Oum Kalthoum, cooked the herbs he brought home and liked pale pink, like the shirt he wears in the picture on Wafa’s WhatsApp account. Next to it is a number. Yesterday was 3016, the number of days since his disappearance.


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