In a new report published today, The Syria Campaign and the Human Rights Foundation provide an in-depth analysis of avenues towards international justice for Syria.
The report, Framing Justice in Syria, based on interviews with more than a dozen legal experts, human rights campaigners, survivors and family members of people forcibly disappeared in Syria, examines routes to hold perpetrators of grave crimes under international law committed in Syria since 2011 accountable. It also highlights the importance of ensuring the voices of survivors and victims’ families are heard and their needs are at the center of any efforts to achieve justice.
Since the 2011 revolution, the Syrian regime has committed human rights violations, including war crimes and crimes against humanity, on a mass scale. Syrian forces, with the support of Russia, have carried out indiscriminate attacks killing and injuring thousands of civilians. Tens of thousands of people have been arbitrarily detained, forcibly disappeared or killed in detention. Today more than 130,000 Syrians remain missing and detention and enforced disappearances continue to take place. Despite this, justice is nowhere in sight.
Wafa Mustafa, a Syrian human rights activist, whose father was forcibly disappeared in 2013, and who is campaigning for his release and that of all others like him, said:
“We will not stop fighting for justice. Justice is not something you will find but something you need to build. That means using every opportunity to make sure that my father and the tens of thousands forcibly disappeared like him are not forgotten by the world. It means taking every chance to speak out and not resting until each one of our loved ones is found.”
With the UN Security Council unable to offer justice or refer the situation to the International Criminal Court, many avenues for prosecuting war criminals accountable remain blocked. In 2016 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution establishing an investigative mechanism (IIIM) with a mandate to compile evidence of war crimes, but with no designated venue for prosecution it remains unable to deliver justice.
So far, universal jurisdiction, which allows courts to prosecute crimes regardless of where they were committed, has proven to be the only viable option for Syrians to obtain a measure of justice, particularly in Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, and France.
In a landmark trial in Koblenz in Germany, Anwar R and Eyad A were convicted for their role in crimes against humanity. Yet despite the breakthrough nature of the Koblenz trial the impact of universal jurisdiction remains limited.
Lamis Alkhateeb, human rights advocate and member of Families for Freedom a women-led movement of Syrian families campaigning for justice for detainees said:
“The Koblenz trial helped to bring us one step closer to justice. But these are just two men out of hundreds of regime officials who should be tried for war crimes. True justice for Syria cannot be achieved while our loved ones remain imprisoned by the Syrian regime.”
The report identifies several key issues that should be integral to any processes to deliver justice. In the report, The Syria Campaign and Human Rights Foundation call on the international community to maintain a victim-centered approach to justice and for any mechanisms of justice to take place with full participation of Syrian survivors and civil society organizations.
The report recommends that all forms of support must be provided to survivors and witnesses participating in legal procedures. It highlights access to medical and mental health services as an essential component for justice. It also highlights the need for mechanisms of justice to be sensitive to the impact of the conflict based on gender and sexual orientation. This means ensuring sexual and gender based violence is included as a crime against humanity and criminal processes are conducted through a gender-sensitive lens.
“No solution or approach can be legitimate without taking into account and integrating the demands of the victims and their families. We need to set forth the vision of the victims when it comes to justice, accountability, and the future of Syria,” said Ameenah Sawwan, Justice and Accountability Campaigner at The Syria Campaign.
“The international community must do everything in their power to push for accountability, including by seeking approval of a UN Security Council resolution on detainees and missing persons in Syria and putting an end to the systematic use of arbitrary detention, forced disappearance and torture.”
For media requests or to arrange an interview with one of the survivors or witnesses please contact [email protected]