Syria’s Disappeared: The Case against Assad

Tens of thousands of men, women and children have disappeared into secret detention centres in Syria since the protests began in 2011. Survivors allege crimes against humanity. They’re fighting to free those still detained and to prosecute the perpetuators at the very top of the regime.

Bill Wiley and his team of war crimes investigators are smuggling material out of Syria to a secret location in Europe. They’ve already extracted around 600,000 pages of regime documentation – a wealth of potential evidence against the Syrian regime that could help to build the case for a criminal prosecution along the lines of the Nuremberg trials. The paper trail led the prosecutors to the fate of the protestors who took to the streets in 2011. People like Mansour, Ayham and Mazen, rounded up and sent to secret prisons.

Using the documents, war crimes investigators have pieced together what happened behind the scenes. Orders came from the top of the regime, identifying who should be targeted. Inside the prisons, mass executions were taking place and detainees starved and tortured. Desperate not to be forgotten, they wrote their names in blood and smuggled messages out. Outside, their relatives begged the authorities for any news.

Mazen and Mansour were eventually released. Ayham’s mother would identify him as ’corpse 320’ in a stash of smuggled photos. Haunted by what they experienced, they are now helping prosecutors. But the UN seems unable to act. Much of the international focus has been on the crimes on ISIS. Security council resolutions to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court have been vetoed by Russia and China.

But there is one route to justice. If one of the victims of the detention centres was European or one of the perpetrators travelled to Europe, a case could be opened in a European court. And recently, there was a major breakthrough. The sister of one of the victims is a dual Spanish/Syrian national. She has filed papers in Spain’s national court bringing a case of state terrorism.


  • Year: 2017
  • Duration: 52 mins
  • Production: Afshar Films
  • Director: SARA AFSHAR
  • Available Versions: ENG
  • Country of production: United Kingdom



  • Documentary Feature Story of the Year (2017) at the Foreign Press Association Awards in London (UK); Investigation of the Year at the British Journalism Awards 2017 (UK); Nominated for a Royal Television Society Award in the International Current Affairs category; FIFDH Geneva 2017 (Switzerland); Warm Festival 2017 (Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina); Mediterranean Film Festival of Valencia 2017 (Spain); Al Jazeera Balkans Documentary Film Festival 2018 (Boznia and Herzegovina) + other special screenings in 2017 at Curzon Bloomsbury, London (UK); Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington DC (US); French Institute, New York (US); European Parliament, Brussels (Belgium); Planetarium in Berlin (Germany); UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Amnesty HQ, London (UK), Courtroom 600, Nuremberg (Germany); Norwegian Film Institute, Oslo (Norway).

Related Programs

Mosul After the War

For a year, despite the concerns of the international community and the threat of ISIS’ return, we followed the efforts to rebuild Mosul.

More info

The Envoy : Inside Syria Peace Negotiations

During the months before the fall of Aleppo, we gained exclusive access to Staffan de Mistura, the UN’s special envoy for Syria and symbolic representative of the international community.

More info