On February 6-7, 2014, representatives of Syrian judicial and legal councils, in addition to the Syrian human rights and civil society organizations, gathered at a conference in Istanbul, Turkey at the invitation of the Syrian Commission for Transitional Justice and the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies. The conference, entitled “Establishing a Unified Database of Human Rights Violations in Syria” was attended by Dr. Ahmad Tou’ma, prime minister of the Syrian Interim Government, and Judge Fayez Ad-Dahy, the minister of Justice.
Attendees discussed the necessary mechanisms for supporting coordination among the human rights and civil society organizations in order to build a central database of human rights violations committed in Syria, as well as means for bolstering documentation of extrajudicial killings, torture, and enforced disappearances. The central database will be used during the post-conflict transition for memorialization, reparations, and as forensic evidence prior to the establishment of special courts and other transitional justice programs.
Attendees also participated in a discussion on the proposal of the Syrian Commission for Transitional Justice to form a Special Syrian Court for prosecuting perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria.
It will be impossible to open a new page in Syria without holding criminals accountable. Failing to prosecute perpetrators of crimes against humanity will open a door for vengeance, continuing the cycle of impunity and violence, and will prevent the establishment of new rule based on justice and quality.
Conference participants confirmed the importance of forming a court as soon as possible to utilize the available forensic evidence of crimes. Attendees also discussed various methods of establishing a Syrian court and the forms the court could take. Ultimately participants found that the most suitable option is to establish a Special Syrian Court through the United Nations General Assembly. This Syrian court will include Syrian judges but allow for the presence of international judges in order to provide technical expertise. This is the option that we in the Syrian Commission on Transitional Justice will actively seek for the Syrian people. The model we are trying to establish in Syria is similar to Sierra Leone’s model, however we will follow the same steps by which the Cambodian court was formed. The Cambodian court was the only special mixed court to be established by the General Assembly of the United Nations while all the other special courts, including the special court in Lebanon, were established by UN Security Council resolutions.
Conference participants submitted and approved the following characteristics for the Syrian Special Court:
– The temporal jurisdiction of this court will start in 1970 as a symbolic gesture to criminalize the dictatorship of the Al-Assad family but also to allow for the prosecution of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the deceased former president Hafez Al-Assad.
– The jurisdiction of this court, which will function in accordance with international criminal law, in addition to Syrian law, shall cover crimes of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity that took place on Syrian ground, were perpetrated by Syrians abroad, or were perpetrated against Syrians outside of Syria.
– The mechanisms of selecting the national and international judges shall be open and transparent to ensure the selection of the most qualified judges.
– The Syrian Interim Government will issue the law for establishing the court before being referred to the Secretariat of the United Nations and then to the General Assembly of the United Nations for voting and approval.
The following organizations participated in the conference, approved the final statement, and supported its recommendation for implementation by the Syrian Commission for Transitional Justice:
– The Syrian Commission for Transitional Justice (SCTJ).
– Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies (DCHRS).
– Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR).
– Kurdish Organization for Human Rights in Syria (DAD).
– Center for Civil Society and Democracy in Syria.
– Syrian Center for Statistics and Research.
– Law Office for Documenting Human Rights Violations in Syria – RAQEEB.
– Syrian Human Rights Organization (SAWASIAH).
– Syrian commission for Human Rights in Free Syria.
– Syrian Institute for Justice.
– Free Syrian Lawyers Association (FSLA).
– Aleppo Free Lawyers.
– Civil Assembly of Syrian Lawyer’s.
– Syrian Judicial Council.