Building justice for Syria

4 min 22Approximate reading time

Syria became the place where the most serious war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated, even one day the former secretary general Ban Ki-Moon described of what happened in Aleppo as "synonym for hell."

The challenges face the international human rights, and justice communities are vast, where the impunity became the new culture and circle of violence turned to be the only reality.

The UN commission of Inquiry documented the patterns of the crimes in Syria, and concluded that there is an "everyday war crimes and crimes against Humanity."  

The widespread and the brutality of such crimes requires a response from the international community beyond condemnations and statements.

The last try of such complicated process was the UNGA resolution A/71/L48 to establish the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM) for accountability for crimes in Syria which gives hope for the Syrians that there will be accountability for the crimes committed against the Syrian people in the last six years.

This new mechanism came after the failure of the U.N security council to refer these crimes to the International Criminal Court to hold the perpetrators accountable, which is becoming more difficult especially after the Russian intervention in Syria since September 2015.

The Syria conflict has now entered its seventh year. Violence has displaced millions and killed at least 450 thousand. Many Syrian cities, towns, and neighborhoods have been destroyed or abandoned like Daraya, Madayia, and Al-Moudamia. The fabric of Syrian society has been torn to shreds.

But the IIIM process plays the role of collecting evidence rather than assuring accountability; this is we still have a long road ahead of us to keep the issue of justice part of any talks or negotiations in Syria. Because I do believe that such unanswered crimes have stretched Syrian society to the breaking point. And though justice will play a critical role in the Syrian future, prosecutions alone will not guarantee a successful start to the next chapter in Syria’s history. Syrian civil society organizations have a responsibility to immediately begin taking steps toward mending Syria’s social fabric and encouraging reconciliation and social cohesion.

Syria can overcome the legacy of the past by engaging in a comprehensive national reconciliation, such process can achieve its goal only after the conflict is ended, and all refugees returned home; as transitional justice experiences across the world have taught us, reconciliation is closely linked to the path of political transition and depends mainly on the political will and vision of both the actors and the political forces on the ground. Unfortunately, Syria has practically no history of political participation aside from complete domination of the regime-supported Baath party. This leaves Syria with few options when considering to whom to turn to design and implement post-conflict reconciliation programs.

 As a result, the responsibility falls on the post-Assad government (depends on what`s shape this government will be) and Syrian civil society to prosecute those responsible for human rights violations. Therefore, the new UNGA resolution is very important because put a stone on the long road to justice within internal and international environment doesn't welcome justice over stability.

 Whether on the national or international level, justice must be sought on behalf of the victims of violent events in Syria. The culture of impunity which lasted for so long in Syria under the government of the Ba`th party should end. This is the only way to open the door for a national reconciliation efforts carried out through a comprehensive transitional justice process.

The Syrian will face two options is pursuing justice in the future, the domestic option or the International one; despite the chance of the first one is very slim for many reasons: lack of the capacity of the Syrian judiciary, the size of the massive crimes committed in Syria beyond the ability of any small state to handle by itself, and above all of that of course the division and the polarization the Syrian society is going through today make difficult even impossible for any judicial process to get the trust or the confidence of the Syrian people.

But at the same time, such option will be shorter than the international one, and the cost of such process will be far away cheaper than the internationalized one, and the ability of the victims to be represented within the court system will be higher since the victims will more involve in such domestic court.

But, on the other hand, the international court, such ICC, still there are very series obstacles to reach it due to the fact of the Russian veto at the security council which prevent any referral of the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court, therefore it looks this road is blocked, this is why the only option left is the hybrid international court, which will be mixed with international law along with the Syrian laws, it is implemented before in Sierra leone and Cambodia, where the structure of such courts can fit into the model of such Syrian court exactly.

Therefore, it seems that the hybrid courts are the best option for Syria and Syrians. The tribunals will be held on Syrian territory and will involve the direct participation of Syrian judges supported by international expertise, perhaps under the supervision of the United Nations.

The necessity of international involvement is to have assurance there is no bias or discrimination, such feeling will be very active in divided societies after the conflict no matter the way the conflict is ended.

The international standards of justice and international transparency will be guaranteed. The goal is not to target a specific religious or minority group and hold them accountable, but to establish the course of justice that can ensure justice for all without any discrimination based on religion, ethnicity or race.

Syria in the future should be a state based on the respect of law and end the impunity for whose committed crimes, this is the only way the Syrian can get the trust from the international community which should help them building the new system and its commitment to justice and reconciliation and that there is no place for the policies of revenge or retaliation within its program.  





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All over the world, societies suffer from traumatic experiences in wars and conflicts. The Berlin Seminar of the Robert Bosch Stiftung brings peace actors from (post-) conflict societies to Germany’s capital to work towards an appropriate approach to addressing violence in their countries. The participants discuss with experts and visit sites of memory. Furthermore, they peer-consult each other and exchange best practices to strengthen their abilities for conflict transformation. The belief is that lasting peace is only possible if the legacy of conflicts is dealt with in an inclusive and constructive manner.
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