Can there be peace without justice in Syria?
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Can there be peace without justice in Syria?

February 4, 2020

We cannot achieve peace
in Syria without justice. When we talk about peace,
we talk about sustainable peace. It cannot be achieved
without accountability. After all this crime… more than seven million Syrians
are now abroad, and hundreds of thousands of people
have gone missing, been tortured, faced sexual violence. So with all this crime
people cannot feel satisfaction. It’s like without… It’s about providing them
with some kind of hope that one day they will see
these criminals be brought before court. We want to raise the awareness
that still today torture is a very regular tool of governance
used by the Syrian government. And this cannot be on the table
for peace negotiations. You will not have sustainable peace
if this question has not been dealt with. The reason why,
when it comes to Syria, there is no international
justice mechanism in place is that the road to the ICC,
to the International Criminal Court, that would be responsible and that would have the mandate to hear
these kinds of cases, is blocked, because Syria is not
a state party to the Rome Statute. And the other way to come to the ICC, by way of a Security Council mandate
by the United Nations, is blocked by a veto
by Russia and China so far. So that means we have
one of the greatest crimes of our times, torture in a systematic
and widespread manner that goes beyond all imagination, and we have no
international justice mechanism. For these reasons there exists
the concept of universal jurisdiction, which means that crimes
that are so grave that they kind of shake
the consciousness of humankind can be dealt with
by all courts in all countries. We all agree that the best way
to deal with these crimes would be in very fair and transparent
proceedings in Syria itself. But we all know
that this is currently not a possibility, so really the only option that we have is national courts
in jurisdictions outside of Syria. The evidence depends on witnesses,
who are mostly in Europe. There are maybe thousands of survivors
of detention, torture, sexual violence now in Europe. The Caesar-photos… are photos of around 11,000 victims
who have died in Syria under torture, under all kinds of torture. It’s horrible, the pain, the suffering that these people lived through
before they died. And the problem is
that it’s still continuing. We work with survivors of these crimes who for us are not only
witnesses to these crimes, but they are the claimants,
these are their cases basically, and we from the ECCHR
try to support them in that manner. On the other hand, this is of course
very important evidence for these case files. We from the ECCHR find it important
to link these crimes to the people that bear
the most responsibility for them, the higher-ups, so to say, in the hierarchy. They are the ones taking the decisions. They have the power to stop these crimes,
and many times they ordered them. I think the arrest warrant [against Jamil Hassan
– Head of the Syrian Air Force Intelligence] has meant a lot to the Syrians
and it was obvious, even on social media, even with the witnesses who contacted us at ECCHR
to say thank you. At least we see,
it’s like, a ray of light. When we started,
we basically promised nothing. We just promised people
we would do everything that a person like Jamil Hassan
would have an arrest warrant outstanding against him. And many people said,
“You’re crazy, that’s not gonna happen.” And now it did happen,
and this is of course a very tiny step but because we were realistic with what we could achieve
at the very beginning, we’re all happy because at least
it is in a way also a very big step, because it’s an historic step that hasn’t
been taken by Germany before. Yet. This road that we need to go down
is incredibly long, and we are moving
at a very, very slow pace, but at least we are moving
in the right direction. On this operational level, we need to strengthen
the principle of universal jurisdiction, even in the countries
where this is possible today. We’ve already filed criminal complaints
in Germany, in Austria, and now we have just
also filed one in Sweden, because the message is clear: this task cannot be done
by one prosecution authority alone. It needs a concerted effort
just like on the civil society level where we have a network
of civil society actors that come together
to work on these cases. Also on the level
of the prosecution authorities, they need to gather and to join forces, in order to bring
these cases strategically forward, because it’s such a massive task, no country can do this alone. We need your support,
we need the support of governmental actors, so that these investigations can continue, that the war crimes unit
can continue their work, that they keep on
investigating these cases. We need to stay together
as a civil society union, so to say. Foundations like the Heinrich Böll Foundation
that has supported us so much, this will be something that will be
very necessary in the long run. And my wish is… Please don’t forget it
but continue to support us. And also to protect the right of the family to know the fate
of their loved ones who are missing. We’re talking about
hundreds of thousands of people. That’s the right of the Syrians. Accountability and justice
is also the right of the Syrians.

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