The Syrian conflict has underlined some of the weaknesses of the international justice system: the lack of formal justice avenues has left victims of international crimes largely in the cold. Conversely, this stalemate has also led to a transnational justice scene, arising from creative and innovative Syrian and international justice initiatives. This last Syria podcast episode sheds a light on some of the pitfalls and achievements that could inform justice actors in other conflicts.
While local civil society’s efforts to document crimes and collect evidence are remarkable, Mohammad Al Abdallah, director of the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre (SJAC) is pessimistic about their outcome. Mr. Al Abadallah fears that as long as there are no domestic justice processes, accountability would fail to achieve its goals. Nonetheless, he is adamant about the importance of credible, authentic documentation: “to help justice processes in the future to start on the right footing. The second thing is to take any available interim steps and use them to the extent possible.”
Within this context, the work of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to assist in the investigation and prosecution of persons responsible for the most serious crimes under International Law committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011 (IIIM), is vital. Its head, Catherine Marchi-Uhel, argues that a two-way communication with Syrian civil society actors is key for this UN entity that acts as a repository and conducts structural investigations into crimes. Ms. Marchi-Uhel interprets the mandate of this justice catalyst “as encompassing support to forms of justice broader than criminal justice. And the search for missing persons is an obvious component of that.”
The rich and stimulating conversations we had through this podcast mini-series on justice efforts for Syria remind us that transitional justice concepts and initiatives cannot work without innovation and creativity. Justice Visions and Impunity Watch hope that these conversations will inspire justice actors in other contexts and encourage them to think outside of the so-called “toolbox”.
Mohammad Al Abdallah is the founding Director of the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre. Prior to 2011, Mohammad has been active as a Syrian human rights and democracy researcher, among other at Human Rights Watch. Mohammad is a former prisoner and survivor of torture who was imprisoned twice in Syria for his work on human rights and political reform. At SJAC he is directly involved in transitional justice projects and the missing persons portfolio.
Catherine Marchi-Uhel is the head of the IIIM since 2017. Prior to joining the IIIM, she was the Ombudsperson for the Security Council Committee pursuant to resolutions concerning ISIL/Da’esh, Al-Qaida and associated individuals, groups, undertakings and entities. Previously a judge in France, Catherine served in the same capacity with the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo and the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.