Syria Deeply Weekly Update: Finding Alternative Routes to Europe

Dear Readers,

Welcome to the weekly Syria Deeply newsletter. We’ve rounded up the most important stories and developments about Syria and the Syrians in order to bring you valuable news and analysis.

Finding Alternative Routes to Europe

Following the plan by the E.U. and Turkey to turn back refugees, many are looking for alternative ways to reach Europe. Syria Deeply explores a new path to the continent that starts on the other side of the Atlantic – in South America.

The Working Children of Eastern Ghouta

Violence, poverty and displacement have affected millions of Syrian children, sometimes forcing them to become the sole providers for their households. In the besieged Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta, many are forgoing their education and turning to the streets to help support their families.

My Life Outside Syria: Diary Entry 63

Marah, a teenage girl from one of Syria’s besieged cities, has been sharing her stories of life in the war. With her mother and siblings, she left Syria, stopping off in Turkey before making the precarious crossing to Greece by boat. Now in Switzerland, she is newly married and now pregnant, all while attempting to come to terms with a life turned upside down.

More Recent Stories to Look Out for at Syria Deeply:

#5YearsWeFled: Difficult Choices (Part 4)

Meet the Group Enabling Syria’s Female Journalists

Assad in Complete Defiance of Peace in Syria

Find our new reporting and analysis every weekday at
You can reach our team with any comments or suggestions at

Forum for International Criminal and Humanitarian Law: Amb. Fife gets Bassiouni Award; Harhoff, Meron, ICTY; Indian Scholarship

Dear colleague,

We are pleased to inform you that Ambassador Rolf Einar Fife is granted the 2015 M.C. Bassiouni Justice Award in recognition of “(a) his unique contributions to the negotiation and adoption of the Statute of the International Criminal Court (‘ICC’), in particular at critical stages of the United Nations Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court Rome, 15 June – 17 July 1998; (b) his outstanding diplomatic efforts to support and protect the nascent ICC in the early years of its existence, especially through his role in the Bureau of the ICC Assembly of States Parties; (c)  his consistent but unassuming contributions to the legitimization of the ICC in the wider international law and diplomatic communities; (d) his ingenious command of the art of what is possible in the development and strengthening of international law, combined with his integrity, courage and strategic capacity when leadership is required to seize favourable multilateral circumstances; and (e) his subtlety and sophistication in multilateral communication, including the fluent use of several languages, reaching a variety of audiences in a trustworthy and persuasive manner that unites actors”. You find more information here. The 2016 Award will be dedicated to an outstanding, young East Asian lawyer in the field of international criminal law and justice. Nominations may be sent to by 8 May 2016.  

We also release 11 new policy briefs today (see complete list at the bottom of this message), including 

With our Indian partners and the Planethood Foundation, CILRAP is pleased to announce the 1st CILRAP Scholarship on International Law (India) on the topic ‘What can India and Indian actors do to strengthen the system of collective security based on the United Nations Charter, including by deterring the illegal use of armed force in violation of the Charter?’. The competition is made possible through the generous contribution by the Nuremberg prosecutor Benjamin B. Ferencz and Professor Donald M. Ferencz. You find more information here.

CILRAP has completed the first phases of the Historical Origins of International Criminal Law Project with the publication of four volumes, completion of two academic conferences, and launch events in The Hague, Beijing, Berlin and New Delhi. You find extensive resources and links about this Project here

CILRAP’s department CMN organizes the conference ‘Strengthening National Justice for Core International Crimes: Laws, Procedures and Practices in an Age of Legal Pluralism’ in Het Spaansche Hof, The Hague on Tuesday 28 June 2016. You find more information here on the programme and registration. 

Kind regards,

Alf Butenschøn Skre

FICHL Executive Adviser

Secretary, 2015 M.C. Bassiouni Justice Award Committee

New policy briefs published 8 April 2016:

FICHL Policy Brief Series No. 56 (2016):

Marshet Tadesse Tessema and Marlen Vesper-Gräske:

Africa, the African Union and the International Criminal Court: Irreparable Fissures? 

Torkel Opsahl Academic EPublisher

Brussels, 2016

Published on 8 April 2016.

ISBN: 978-82-8348-035-1.


FICHL Policy Brief Series No. 55 (2016):

GOU Jing:

On the Future of Regulation 55

Torkel Opsahl Academic EPublisher

Brussels, 2016

Published on 8 April 2016.

ISBN: 978-82-8348-034-4.


FICHL Policy Brief Series No. 54 (2016):

Devasheesh Bais:

India and the International Criminal Court

Torkel Opsahl Academic EPublisher

Brussels, 2016

Published on 8 April 2016.

ISBN: 978-82-8348-033-7. 


FICHL Policy Brief Series No. 53 (2016):

Pooja Bakshi:

Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones and State Responses in India

Torkel Opsahl Academic EPublisher

Brussels, 2016

Published on 8 April 2016.

ISBN: 978-82-8348-032-0.


FICHL Policy Brief No. 52 (2016):

Shikha Chhibbar:

Sexual Violence in Private Space: Marital Rape in India

Torkel Opsahl Academic EPublisher

Brussels, 2016

Published on 8 April 2016.

ISBN: 978-82-8348-031-3.


FICHL Policy Brief Series No. 50 (2016):

GONG Renren:

On Human Rights and Traditional Culture

Torkel Opsahl Academic EPublisher

Brussels, 2016

Published on 8 April 2016.

ISBN: 978-82-8348-029-0. 


FICHL Policy Brief Series No. 49 (2016):

Gunnar M. Ekeløve-Slydal:

ICTY Shifts Have Made Its Credibility Quake 

Torkel Opsahl Academic EPublisher

Brussels, 2016

Published on 8 April 2016.

ISBN: 978-82-8348-028-3.


FICHL Policy Brief Series No. 48 (2016):

Julija Bogoeva:

International Judges and Government Interests: The Case of President Meron

Torkel Opsahl Academic EPublisher

Brussels, 2016

Published on 8 April 2016.

ISBN: 978-82-8348-027-6.


FICHL Policy Brief Series No. 47 (2016):

Frederik Harhoff:

Mystery Lane: A Note on Independence and Impartiality in International Criminal Trials

Torkel Opsahl Academic EPublisher

Brussels, 2016

Published on 8 April 2016.

ISBN: 978-82-8348-026-9.


FICHL Policy Brief Series No. 45 (2016):

José A. Guevara:

Why the ICC Should Open a Preliminary Examination in Mexico: Allegations of Torture Committed in the Context of the War on Drugs

Por qué la CPI debería abrir un examen preliminar en México: Alegaciones de tortura cometida en el contexto de la guerra contra las drogas

Torkel Opsahl Academic EPublisher

Brussels, 2016

Published on 8 April 2016.

ISBN: 978-82-8348-019-1 (English) and 978-82-8348-020-7 (Spanish). 

LTD-PURL: (English).

LTD-PURL: (Spanish). 

FICHL Policy Brief Series No. 44 (2016):

Eloi Urwodhi and M. Nengowe Amundala:

Challenges in the Repression of Core International Crimes in the DRC

Les défis de la répression des crimes internationaux en R. D. Congo

Torkel Opsahl Academic EPublisher

Brussels, 2016

Published on 8 April 2016.

ISBN: 978-82-8348-018-4 (English) and 978-82-8348-050-4 (French). 

LTD-PURL: (English).

LTD-PURL: (French). 

Syria Justice & Accountability Centre: The Controversy over the Syrian Women’s Advisory Board

In February, the United Nations made history when the U.N. Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura convened the Syrian Women’s Advisory Board — the first time such a board has been created to advise a special envoy during peace negotiations. Advisory Board members participated in a press conference following a recent meeting with de Mistura to articulate their key demands which included the release of peaceful activists, the distribution of information on the fate of missing persons, and the lifting of Western-imposed sanctions so that humanitarian aid can reach Syrians. Despite the historic nature of the meeting, many Syrian activists criticized the Advisory Board as unrepresentative and a failed attempt at inclusivity. Some went so far as to suspend their own participation in the Advisory Board, such as the Syrian Women Network which has been engaged in women’s rights in Syria since its formation in 2013.

The Geneva negotiations, in all its iterations, have long been criticized for their failure to substantively include women in the talks. Although women have been involved with peacebuilding and human rights efforts at the grassroots level, almost every photo taken of high-level meetings in Geneva features a roundtable full of men. Since women have consistently been victims of detention, home raids, and massive displacement, in addition to socio-economic burdens when their husbands, fathers, and brothers disappear or die, they have a large stake in the outcome of the talks. Moreover, certain crimes of sexual and gender-based violence, including rape, forced marriage, and sexual slavery, have specifically targeted women. To ensure that these grievances are addressed and the voices of all Syrians are heard, Syrian women, specifically survivors of violations, should participate in any negotiated settlement.

The inclusion of women is not only a theoretical moral principle. Research has shown that peace processes that include women lead to longer-term peace and stability. In a study of 40 peace processes, the Graduate Institute of Geneva found that when women participate, peace agreements are 35 percent more likely to last for at least 15 years. Since conflict affects women and men differently, the inclusion of women in peace talks helps address the concerns of half the population; and, when half the population feels more secure, the chances of successful peace is more likely. Also, while men generally focus more on issues of power and security, women tend to expand the list of priorities to include victims’ rights, transitional justice, and other important social issues that contribute to reconciliation and the sustainability of an agreement.

The Syrian Women’s Advisory Board is the United Nation’s attempt to be more inclusive. So why did the Advisory Board fail to satisfy the demands of civil society? First, many human rights activists criticized the selection process due to its lack of transparency and clarity. While many notable Syrian women were left off the Board, the United Nations chose to include a few women who were members of political groups that allegedly defended government-sponsored violence, who allegedly have links to extremism, who participated in corrupt practices, and who worked for organizations that assisted with government-led human rights violations. While SJAC is not in a position to confirm or deny these allegations, the accusations suggest that de Mistura’s team did not properly vet members, which angered many Syrians, including long-time women’s rights activists.

“I am a Syrian feminist and this advisory board does not represent me in the slightest.”

Source: Facebook post by Syrian Women’s Rights activist Oula Ramadan.


Second, the Advisory Board’s final demands indicate that the women negotiated for political aims, rather than for principles of women’s rights. The most striking example of this is the Board’s demand to lift sanctions so food and medical aid can reach Syrians. While sanctions affect many Syrians by preventing those in the Diaspora from sending money to loved ones and creating difficulties in securing goods from abroad, sanctions cannot be scapegoated for the lack of food and aid in many parts of Syria. The inability of humanitarian aid to reach Madaya and other besieged towns, for example, is not the fault of sanctions, but of the Syrian military’s deliberate policy to starve out and repress opposition-controlled towns. A statement that blames sanctions is clearly politicized, reflecting the makeup of the Board itself.

Third, Syrian civil society is concerned with whether the Advisory Board will be allowed to make meaningful contributions to the negotiation process. Civil society has rarely been consulted in the Geneva talks so far. In fact, Syrian negotiators appear to be sidelined altogether as many deals only take place during high-level talks between the United States and Russia. Exactly how the Special Envoy will feed the demands of the Advisory Board into discussions between the opposition and the government or between Secretary John Kerry and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is unclear. It is not enough to create an Advisory Board or to hold one meeting with civil society — engagement must meaningfully contribute to the process and the final deal.

The Syria Justice and Accountability Centre (SJAC) favors the United Nations’ attempt to broaden the inclusiveness of the negotiation process. Women must be part of the negotiations in order for their specific grievances to be addressed and for the final deal to have a lasting impact on the ground. The creation of an Advisory Board, however, must have a clear vetting and selection process, should aim to articulate principles as opposed to political statements, and will only be effective if the Board can meaningfully participate in the creation of a final framework agreement. The current Advisory Board has fallen short, and, as a result, it has not been embraced by Syrians.


For more information and to provide feedback, please contact SJAC at

Global Citizen: Help Nadia defeat ISIS


“I will speak without a microphone. I’ve been speaking so loud and the world has not been listening.”

That’s how Nadia, a Yazidi woman, started her speech at an event we just did with her.

On August 3, 2014, the so-called Islamic State waged an attack on the Yazidi people in Sinjar, Iraq, killing more than 3,000 civilians and enslaving 5,000-7,000 more, mostly women and children.

Current estimates suggest 3,200 Yazidis remain in ISIS captivity, including Yazidi women who are being used for sexual slavery.

This is genocide. It’s not just us saying it – Secretary of State John Kerry said it last month.

Led by Nadia Murad, the surviving Yazidi community has requested that the International Criminal Court take on this case – and they’re asking for our help.


Thank you for all that you do.

Simon and the Global Citizen Team

War Crimes Prosecution Watch Volume 11, Issue 2 – April 4, 2016

War Crimes Prosecution Watch is a bi-weekly e-newsletter that compiles official documents and articles from major news sources detailing and analyzing salient issues pertaining to the investigation and prosecution of war crimes throughout the world. To subscribe, please email and type “subscribe” in the subject line.

Opinions expressed in the articles herein represent the views of their authors and are not necessarily those of the War Crimes Prosecution Watch staff, the Case Western Reserve University School of Law or Public International Law & Policy Group.




Central African Republic

Darfur, Sudan

Democratic Republic of the Congo


Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)


Lake Chad Region — Chad, Nigeria, Niger, and Cameroon





Rwanda (International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda)


Court of Bosnia & Herzegovina, War Crimes Chamber

International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

Domestic Prosecutions In The Former Yugoslavia


Special Report

Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia



Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

Special Tribunal for Lebanon

Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal

War Crimes Investigations in Burma


North & Central America

South America







Syria Deeply Weekly Update: Meet the Group Enabling Syria’s Female Journalists

Dear Readers,

Welcome to the weekly Syria Deeply newsletter. We’ve rounded up the most important stories and developments about Syria and the Syrians in order to bring you valuable news and analysis.

Meet the Group Enabling Syria’s Female Journalists

The Syrian Female Journalists’ Network is a non-profit initiative that trains Syrian female journalists and promotes their role in the region’s media. Syria Deeply spoke to co-founder Milia Eidmouni about the network’s work and its plans for women working in Syria’s media.

From Turkey to Europe – Q&A With a Smuggler

Who is behind the smuggling of refugees from Turkey to the Greek islands? How are these potentially deadly trips planned and organized? In the second installment of an ongoing investigation into dangerous routes to safety, Syria Deeply speaks with a people smuggler in Izmir.

Op-Ed: Five Years of Crisis, Five Million Syrian Refugees

The world must stop failing Syria’s refugees, writes Amnesty International’s head researcher on refugee and migrant rights in the lead up to the United Nations Refugee Agency’s March 30 conference centered on sharing responsibility for the refugee crisis globally. Five years of war have pushed nearly five million people to flee the country.

More Recent Stories to Look Out for at Syria Deeply:

#5YearsWeFled: Difficult Choices (Part 3)

My Life Outside Syria: Diary Entry 62

Op-Ed: In Syria, Maybe the Bridge is Best After All

Find our new reporting and analysis every weekday at
You can reach our team with any comments or suggestions at

ICTJ | World Report March 2016 – Transitional Justice News and Analysis

In Focus

Truth is the First Step Towards Peace

As we search for ways to halt the violence and foster lasting peace in societies grappling with a legacy of massive human rights abuse, there is arguably no more important day to reflect upon the importance of the struggle for truth and justice than today, March 24. Thus, we take a moment to mark the International Day for the Right to the Truth concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims.

Read More…

World Report


Former vice-president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Jean-Pierre Bemba, was convicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes committed in the Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003. It was the first time a commander of a military force was convicted by the ICC both for the crimes of his subordinates and for using sexual violence as a weapon of war. The trial of Congolese militia commander Germain Katanga started in Kinshasa over new charges in his native country. The warlord left prison in January after serving the term handed down by the ICC in The Hague. On the same week,the ICC confirmed all the 70 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity brought against the Ugandan commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) Dominic Ongwen. A court in Ivory Coast sentenced Simone Gbagbo, the wife of the former president Laurent Gbagbo, to 20 years in prison for her role in a 2011 post-election crisis in which around 3,000 people were killed, her lawyer said. The army of Nigeria has established an office of human rights, which will train soldiers to respect the rights of civilians in the continuing fight against Boko Haram and other terrorist groups. In Kenya, international judges have barred the use of recanted testimony in the ongoing trial of Kenyan Vice President William Ruto, who is accused of committing crimes against humanity during the violence that followed the 2007 elections. In Sudan, a human rights body called on South Sudanese leaders to establish a unity government in order to bring to justice those who committed crimes during the 21-month conflict. Several days later, South Sudanese government troops attacked a U.N. base, killing at least 18 civilians. Since the attack, investigations have found that soldiers from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army planned and carried out the attack, possibly with the help of militias. In South Africa, the national human rights commission has expressed concerns that racism is still an issue for the country, noting that 10% of violations reported to the commission had to do with inequality, with more than half of those complains related directly to racial discrimination.

Read More…


Colombia’s government and left-wing FARC rebels missed the March 23 deadline for the signing of a peace agreement. While peace was not obtained, some progress has been made in the past six months.The peace talks have established the need for a Special Tribunal for Peace, which will investigate over 100,000 crimes in 32,433 open trials. Santiago Uribe, brother of the former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe, was arrested for creating and leading a death squad known as the Twelve Apostles. In Guatemala, two former military members were sentenced to 360 years in prison for the murder, rape, and sexual enslavement of indigenous women during Guatemala’s military conflict in the 1980s. In Mexico, a report released by the Oaxaca Truth Commission documented massive and systemic human rights abuses committed in 2006 and 2007, including widespread torture and extrajudicial killings. Additionally, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights declared in a report that Mexico is currently undergoing a human rights crisis, as evidenced by thousands of deaths, disappearances, kidnappings, and threats. Chile has been investigating human rights abuses that occurred under military rule, utilizing soldiers’ testimonies to uncover the truth about any atrocities they witnessed or took part in.

Read More…


In Nepal, the government has endorsed the regulation of the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP), providing an impetus in the previously delayed transitional justice process. However, victims still complain about the inefficiency of Nepal’s transitional justice bodies, and victims criticize their lack of sensitivity and sympathy toward survivors. The UN has warned that it cannot provide financial support to Nepal’s transitional justice bodies in their present condition. A human rights report on Sri Lanka has urged the Sri Lankan government to translate its promises on transitional justice into action. Although Sri Lankan President Sirisena has been opposed to foreign involvement in national war crimes investigations, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera assured that foreign participation is in fact being considered. The UN strongly suggested that Sri Lanka accept foreign help due on the grounds that they lack the technical competencies to handle the war crimes probes. In Bangladesh, Prosecutor Mohammad Ali was suspended from his role in ongoing war crimes trials due to professional misconduct. The Bangladeshi Supreme Court has expressed displeasure with the investigators and prosecutors involved in the cases, claiming that they have not been effective despite their having sufficient financial resources to properly investigate and prosecute crimes.

Read More…


The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) found the former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić guilty of genocide over the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and sentenced to 40 years in jail. Karadžić was found guilty of 10 out of the 11 charges, including war crimes and crimes against humanity, like murder, terror and extermination. Atifete Jahjaga, president of Kosovo, has ratified an agreement with the Netherlands regarding the establishment of a special war crimes court in The Hague to address crimes possibly committed by ex-guerillas from the Kosovo Liberation Army. Additionally, Kosovo high schools are set to begin teaching transitional justice as part of their curriculum thanks to the implementation of a proposal from the Humanitarian Law Centre.

Read More…


Tunisia’s Truth and Dignity Commission, which has been established to uncover past human rights violations and compensate victims, is struggling to remain effective given its decreasing political support and resistance from some members of the ruling elite. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon, a special court set up to try the killers of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, quashed on appeal the conviction of Karma Khayat, a senior TV journalist accused of obstructing justice. In Libya, delegates from rival factions have proposed the establishment of an 18-member unity government, a proposal which requires approval from the internationally recognized parliament based in eastern Libya. In Egypt, a prominent human rights organization that documents allegations of torture, death, and medical negligence in police stations and prisons was closed by the Egyptian government. Following a series of incidents involving police abuse, the Free Egyptians Party demanded rigorous implementation of existing laws and new regulations from the Ministry of Interior to restrict the authority of police officers. Tensions in Egypt have been further stoked by recent incidents involving torture and murder at the hands of police officers, including the shooting of a 21-year-old cab driver in late February.

Read More…


More Than Words: Apologies as a Form of Reparation

This report explores many of the issues and challenges likely to be faced by those considering a public apology as a form of reparation for victims of serious human rights violations.

View Report

Opening Up Remedies in Myanmar

This briefing paper calls on the soon-to-be-established NLD-led Burmese government to seriously consider taking steps to deal with Myanmar’s troubled past as a way to help end the cycle of violence and human rights violations in the conflict-torn country.

View Report

More Publications

IHRDC Report: ‘Restrictions on Freedom of Expression in the Islamic Republic of Iran’

On Friday, March 25, the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC) released its twenty-third report on human rights violations in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The report, entitled ‘Restrictions on Freedom of Expression in the Islamic Republic of Iran’, describes the legal framework within which the Iranian state imposes censorship and limits the freedom of expression. Relying on witness testimony from former government officials, authors and journalists, the report examines different aspects of the Iranian government’s actions against individuals whose opinions, beliefs or actions are contrary to what the state desires or expects. 

 Restrictions on freedom of expression in Iran are both broad and arbitrary. In addition, changes in the political climate influence what may be acceptable in the political and cultural arenas. Isa Saharkhiz, a journalist and a former official with Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, likened working as a journalist in Iran to walking on a minefield, knowing that a wrong step may harm your career or possibly land you in prison.

 This report discusses events that took place in the early years of the Iranian Revolution as well as those of the recent past. While the characteristics of censorship and governmental controls on speech have undergone some changes over time, the Islamic Republic has shown that it is not willing to significantly soften its position with respect to political opinion and cultural expression, which it appears to consider as challenges to its political or religious authority. Restrictions on Freedom of Expression in the Islamic Republic if of Iran explains how the Iranian government violates its own laws as well as international human rights norms as it attempts to maintain control over media outlets, the internet, and individual Iranians. “The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has engineered one of the most repressive environments on the planet in terms of the right to free speech,” said Rod Sanjabi, Executive Director of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, adding, “For decades, journalists, scholars, artists and indeed all Iranians have been forced to navigate censorship, self-censorship, and the aggressive and often arbitrary policing of the public space by a government whose distaste for free speech has long been a matter of identity. As long as these trends persist, Iran will be poorly governed.”

For more information, please contact:

Iran Human Rights Documentation Center


Phone: +1 203 772 2218

Syria Deeply Weekly Update: The Unknown Journey of Syria’s Refugees

Dear Readers,

Welcome to the weekly Syria Deeply newsletter. We’ve rounded up the most important stories and developments about Syria and the Syrians in order to bring you valuable news and analysis.

The Unknown Journey of Syria’s Refugees

The dangerous sea and land crossings that Syrian refugees are making to Europe have been well-documented, but less well known are the equally perilous journeys people take to leave Syria itself. In this first installment of a two-part series, Syria Deeply examines the illegal journey from Damascus to Turkey.

Iron Rule: Jaish al-Islam in Eastern Ghouta

Jaish al-Islam’s leader Zahran Alloush was killed by Syrian government airstrikes last year, but his successors are keeping his brutal legacy alive in Eastern Ghouta. Syria Deeply spoke to residents and former prisoners of the “Army of Islam” about the group’s severe punishment of dissent.

A Special Note to Syrian Mothers on Mother’s Day

While the Middle East celebrated its Mother’s Day on Monday, Ameenah A. Sawan recalled the first Mother’s Day of the Syrian uprising, now a bittersweet memory of cheers, fears and sadness, and wished strength to all Syrian mothers who have seen unimaginable suffering over the past five years.

More Recent Stories to Look Out for at Syria Deeply:

Find our new reporting and analysis every weekday at

You can reach our team with any comments or suggestions at

ICTJ: Truth is the First Step Towards Peace

Dear friends,

Today, in our troubled times marked by ongoing conflicts, incredible violence and increasing hostility, it is imperative that we stand united in the struggle against impunity. Our attention and effort must be directed to do what we can in defense and remedy of those targeted by brutal violence from Syria to Central African Republic, from Pakistan to Turkey and beyond.

As we search for ways to halt the violence and foster lasting peace in societies grappling with a legacy of massive human rights abuse, there is arguably no more important day to reflect upon the importance of the struggle for truth and justice than today, March 24. Thus, we take a moment to mark the International Day for the Right to the Truth concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims.

The pursuit of justice can take many forms, and truth telling is an essential one. In 2010, the United Nations established March 24 as a day to honor the memory of victims of gross and systematic human rights violations and their right to truth and justice. If peace is to have any chance of prevailing in times of escalating conflict, it is more necessary than ever to uphold this fundamental right.

Truth telling is essential to achieve long-lasting peace and social change. It helps reduce tensions between opposing parties by revealing and validating the experiences of different groups. To build a dignified and inclusive future, it is necessary to overcome divisive sectoral narratives by establishing an objective account of the violent past.

In many post-conflict settings, efforts to establish a reliable account of what happened during conflict have taken the form of a truth commission. Truth commissions are temporary, official inquiries established to determine the facts, causes, and consequences of past human rights violations. Victims are at the heart of such truth-seeking processes, because oftentimes their voices have been silenced or ignored for years.

Since 1983, more than 30 truth commissions have been established around the world to investigate past human rights abuses committed during periods of conflict or repression. In 2013, ICTJ and the Kofi Annan Foundation joined efforts to reexamine assumptions about how truth commissions may be established and what makes them operate effectively as a tool to strengthen peace processes.

This project has produced several outcomes, including the publication “Challenging the Conventional: Can Truth Commissions Strengthen Peace Processes?” and thoughtful discussions in Geneva, New York, and Bogotá, among other places.

Today, as part of this sustained effort and our firm commitment to building peace on the foundation of truth, we are launching a multimedia presentation based on the reflections we have developed throughout this 3-year project. We invite you to learn – in EnglishSpanish and Arabic – from Guatemala, Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and Nepal on how truth seeking can serve as a catalyzer for peace.

Go to Multimedia Presentation

Join us in challenging the conventional to find new ways to contribute towards building accountable and dignified societies.


David Tolbert

ICTJ President

Syria Justice and Accountability Centre: Filling the Justice Vacuum in Syria

As a result of the relative calm following the US-Russia brokered ceasefire, widespread anti-regime protests have taken place throughout Syria for the first time in years. Syrians in Aleppo, Idlib, Homs, Hama, and parts of Damascus took to the streets to demand freedom, declaring that the revolution is still alive. Islamist groups Jabhat al-Nusra and Jaish al-Fatah, however, immediately disapproved and have intervened to disperse the protesters. The Islamist groups appear to have cracked down because the protesters were holding the “revolution flags” and signs calling for secularism and democracy. Activists reported that Islamist militants threatened them with death if they did not immediately leave the streets. The militants also smashed recording equipment and cameras, seized and tore apart revolutionary banners and flags, and detained some protesters.

After seizing neighborhoods and towns from either the government or opposition fighters, Islamist factions implemented so-called Sharia courts to mete out justice in the areas which they control. These courts have no written laws or legal texts to define procedures and punishments. A video taken from one of Jabhat al Nusra’s Sharia courts shows that judges do not adhere to a penal code, and instead, dole out punishments based on their own discretionary interpretation of Quranic law. A majority of these judges and clerks lack experience or academic qualifications in either civil or Islamic jurisprudence. As a result, the courts have often times been the scene of inconsistent, unfair, and vengeful trials.

These Sharia courts are also inconsistent in their interpretations of Islamic law, varying based on what school of Islam the faction follows. According to some Syrian activists, the courts interpret Sharia law to exert their own faction’s influence and goals, a problem akin to the justice system under Bashar al-Assad’s government. As a result, Syrians cannot use the courts to fairly address simple complaints, let alone human rights violations committed by the same factions that control the courts. Due to Syrians’ lack of access to fair dispute resolution mechanisms, a justice vacuum has emerged that Islamist militants have been unable to fill.

With no avenue for legal recourse, some Syrians have fought back. Recent footage from Marat al-Nuuman in Idlib show protesters chanting against Jabhat al-Nusra and tearing down the Islamist group’s black flags. The reemergence of protests against both the government and Islamist groups indicate that, despite five years of conflict, Syrians desire more than basic food and aid. It also signals a strong rejection by some segments of Syrian society of the hardline values and systems imposed by groups like al-Nusra.

A group of protesters tearing down an Al Nusra flag | Photo Credit: Hany Hilal (Facebook)

A fair and balanced legal system is one of the demands of the Syrian people. Such a legal system would adhere to the rule of law, abide by due process guarantees, grant fair trials, punishments, and redress to victims, and hold perpetrators accountable regardless of their affiliation. Syria’s judicial system is a long way from these international standards, which is why institutional reform is needed. The Sharia courts are not reform-minded. Instead they repeat the same failures of the current system and add additional chaos with conflicting and arbitrary rules. A key pillar of transitional justice, institutional reform, could include the vetting of judicial personnel, structural reforms, oversight, transforming legal frameworks, and education. Given their long history of abuse and corruption, the reform of Syrian state institutions will be vital to disabling the structures that allow abuses to occur, preventing the recurrence of violations, and instilling respect for human rights and the rule of law.

Syrian peace talks need to address the urgent need for institutional reform in Syria, particularly in the justice sector. These are issues that the negotiators cannot ignore and in which civil society can play a vital role, including by providing documentation of past institutional abuse. Additionally, international organizations and donors can support the reform process, both financially and through expertise that builds the capacity of local judges and lawyers.

While international experts largely focus on criminal accountability through international tribunals, the domestic system will also need the ability to address human rights abuses as well as ordinary complaints. International justice remains a priority, but without reform and capacity building of Syria’s justice sector, the same problems that led to dissatisfaction and conflict will inevitably continue, no matter which government emerges in the post-conflict period.

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