A demonstrator holds a picture of a missing relative during a protest against Syria's President Assad in Baba Amro

From 28,000 to as many as 80,000 people have been abducted in Syria during the course of the past 19 months, according to the global online activist group, Avaaz.

Avaaz is calling attention to the reported cases of forced disappearances, saying Syrian government security forces and paramilitary groups are using the tactic to terrorize families and communities.  The group released testimony from family members of those arrested, detained or abducted in Syria since the crisis began in March of last year. VOA’s Susan Yackee spoke about their findings with Avaaz New York Campaign Director Ian Bassin.

Here are select highlights of the interview. Featured further below are a sound file with a fuller version of the interview as well as an Avaaz-released released video about Syria’s disappreared.

Horror on a massive scale

What we’re seeing is really horror on a massive scale. Respected human rights lawyers across Syria are being told of men and women being snatched off the streets in the tens of thousands, taken by Syrian security forces and forcibly disappeared.

bassin ian 150 QUICKTAKE: World’s ‘Silence is Oxygen’ for Syria Horrors – Ian Bassin, Avaaz

Ian Bassin

A tool of intimidation

We’re seeing [forced disappearances] on such a scale that it’s very possible that the government is trying to use this as a tool of intimidation. Imagine the horror of not knowing what has happened to your father, your wife, your brother, your son. They’ve been taken. You don’t know whether they’re alive or dead, if they’re being tortured and pained, and if they’ll ever come back again. And, for a lot of people, the hope that ‘maybe, if I’ll stay silent, maybe, if I comply and don’t oppose the government, maybe then I’ll see my loved one again,’ is [the regime’s] way of keeping the opposition down. And that is, maybe, what we are seeing in Syria.

Silence is oxygen

Silence is oxygen for this kind of horror. So, it’s important that we get this information out. With the brave human rights networks that are helping collect this information, we’re calling on the Arab League-United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to put these testimonies, these stories, in front of Bashar al-Assad and ask him to answer to it. And Avaaz is going to bring this testimony to the United Nations Human Rights Council, so that they can investigate it and make sure that in every one of these cases the people who are responsible are held accountable…. It’s time that the world raised its hand and said ‘enough!’

Click to listen to a fuller version of our interview with Ian Bassin (3:02):

Avaaz-released video about Syria’s disappeared:

 QUICKTAKE: World’s ‘Silence is Oxygen’ for Syria Horrors – Ian Bassin, Avaaz

Susan Yackee

Susan Yackee is anchor of VOA's International Edition radio show. She has been a reporter in the Washington area for more than 35 years and regularly interviews newsmakers and analysts in DC and around the world. Susan works in television, radio and social media.