Thousands of Syrian civilians have systematically disappeared since 2011, UN investigators revealed Thursday, saying there was evidence to believe this was part of the regime's "widespread campaign of terror" against the population, dpa reported.
The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria said in its report that the enforced disappearances were a crime against humanity.
"Investigations uncovered a consistent countrywide pattern in which people - mainly adult males - have been seized by the Syrian security and armed forces, as well as by pro-government militias," the report said.
Syrians have been snatched after government-led raids of restive areas, at checkpoints, or from hospitals where they were being treated.
State security forces and allied militias have targeted demonstrators, defectors, family members of perceived enemies, and even children.
Family members of those who have been taken away by security forces are denied any information about the fate of their loved ones, which creates mental anguish that may amount to torture, according to the four-member commission.
The experts, headed by Paulo Sergio Pinheiro from Brazil, noted that rebel groups started this year to take hostages for ransom, which is a different crime.
But the commission also said that some of these groups, such as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), have adopted the tactic of disappearances in recent months.
The report did not provide the number of victims, as family members often do not dare to speak out or inquire, out of well-founded fears that they themselves may be arrested.
A UN official, who requested anonymity, told dpa that the commission has documented 100 disappearances and that it estimates that there are really thousands of such cases.
Besides psychological stress, the families of the mostly male victims are left without a male breadwinner and face poverty.
"I do not know how to live and care for my young children without their father," one young woman told the investigators after her husband disappeared.
All survivors said they were tortured, according to the commission, which said it interviewed many witnesses, but was not allowed into Syria.
The report described the case of a child who was arrested in Daraa in the south of the country in April 2011.
"His family searched for their son in hospitals to no avail, fearing that he had been detained or killed. His body, bearing extensive signs of torture, was returned to his family in June 2011," it said.