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Panel: ‘Aparadigmatic’ TJ: Spotlight on Syria

Victim-centric Justice in the Syrian context

Wladimir Santana Fernandes, PhD Fellow, Roskilde University

This paper explores the meaning of victim-centric approaches to justice among Syrian civil society organizations. Since 2016, there has been a trend in formation of Syrian victims’ associations, and an emerging discourse of victim-centered approaches to justice from their Syrian and international partners. Indeed, under this banner, the UN General Assembly has recently approved the creation of an institution on missing persons in the Syrian conflict. While victim orientation and participation have been celebrated within the Syrian justice ecosystem, the meaning of victim-centrism and the role of victims is subject to contestations and civil society politics. In this context, the victim-centric approach represents a frame to localize transitional justice by placing victims’ needs and experiences at the center of justice and advocacy priorities. The victim-centric approach fuels Syrian and international NGOs efforts to engage with victims, providing them with platforms from which they can organize, contest transitional justice norm hierarchies, and advance their own demands. This approach also generates frictional encounters that highlight the dilemmas of justice in aparadigmatic contexts such as Syria, and the unsettled nature of old debates within the field of transitional justice, such as truth versus justice and the question of timing. Ultimately, in the absence of an arbiter of these dilemmas, victims become key actors for the formation of alliances capable of advancing agendas and building concrete justice projects.

On Postcolonial Violence and the Post-Revolutionary Diasporic Agency: Syrian Justice Beyond the Koblenz Trials

Maria Hartmann, M.A., Center for Conflict Studies, University of Marburg
Dr. Mina Ibrahim, research associate at the Center of Conflict Studies

With over half a million dead, over 13 million refugees, and hundreds of thousands of forcefully disappeared, the dimensions of destruction that the Syrian conflict has created in the last decade are enormous and exceptional. As dealing with the conflict has mostly become only possible from exile, this presentation adopts a postcolonial critical lens to scrutinise the recent trials against Syrian officials in the German city of Koblenz. It discusses facets of postcolonial violence that Syrian activists face as a result of concealing the visibility of their struggles not only inside but also beyond the courtroom. By tracing the continuities of violence to years before and since the 2011 revolution, it dialectically shows how the migrants have reclaimed space and voice by building up a post revolutionary diasporic agency. We refer to the multiple spatial and temporal expansions and decentralisation of the praxis of European, specifically German, laws for crimes against humanity that our interlocutors shaped through their contribution and responses to the recently concluded Koblenz trials in specific. Based on interviews and participant observation with Syrian activists in and outside Germany between 2018 and 2023, the interlocutors’ different positionalities and the authors’ relationships with them have allowed for understanding of their everyday struggles beyond answering questions inside the courtroom in Koblenz or other cities in Europe and the U.S. In conclusion, the paper advocates for the conceptualization of a multidimensional justice, through which Syrians, along their various scattered realities, can in the future pursue demands for democracy, safety, human rights, and freedom.

Understanding a Local-Centred Approach in Syria

Roua Al Taweel, PhD Researcher, Ulster University

The Syrian civil society’s active contestation to mainstream social, political and transitional paradigms has contributed to reevaluating the conceptualisation of civil society’s role in transitional justice. That said, a significant portion of civil society that emerged as grassroots initiatives gradually underwent a process of NGO-isation with the support of international organisations and donors. Such a process is noted to exert significant influence on transitional justice agenda setting in Syria, while also imposing various administrative and operational challenges. This can particularly hinder the efforts of feminist movement operating in conflictaffected context. An examination of these dynamics and their impact on shaping truth narratives and documentations efforts is crucial for a precise understanding of a local-centred approach in Syria. Initial analysis of my fieldwork reveals three dynamic dimensions within Syria’s TJ landscape: the interplay between international and Syrian actors, the tensions between ‘traditional’ Syrian civil society and feminist organisations, and the dynamics among Syrian feminist and women-led stakeholders. Each of these dimensions presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities for transformative efforts in the pursuit of justice in Syria. Consequently, this paper advocates for a nuanced and critical examination of the concept of local participation, emphasising the need to move beyond a simplistic binary perspective. A meaningful localcentred approach should consider various factors, including, and not limited to, the imbalanced distribution of resources, both domestically and globally, and the way that impacts the inclusion of multiplicity of, sometimes oppositional, viewpoints and narratives of grievances.