How Ministers at the Brussels Conference Can Support Justice for Syria

By Syria campainger Leen Hashem

Today, ministers and representatives of over 70 countries and humanitarian organisations are attending the “Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region” conference in Brussels. The conference focuses on gathering additional funds and assistance for Syrians inside Syria and in neighboring countries and discussing the reconstruction of Syria “once a genuinely inclusive political transition is firmly underway”.

It is reassuring to see the international community come together to support Syrians who fled the violence in Syria and sought refuge in neighboring host countries. However, Syrian refugees continue to face serious challenges including restrictive access to health services, employment and protection. The international community should ensure the rights of Syrian refugees through meaningful responsibility-sharing by guaranteeing funding for refugee protection; and by significantly increasing the number of resettlement places and other admission pathways.

As the international community discusses “post-agreement assistance” and reconstruction of Syria, it has additional responsibilities to assume towards Syrians; it should ensure that victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity can access justice and reparations.

Six years into the crisis in Syria, parties to the conflict continue to commit gross human rights violations and abuses, including war crimes and crimes against humanity. To date, victims have seen no justice. Syrian government forces, with the support of Russia, have attacked and bombed civilians, killing and injuring thousands; maintained lengthy sieges on civilian areas; subjected tens of thousands to enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions; and systematically tortured and otherwise ill-treated detainees causing countless deaths in custody. Armed groups have indiscriminately shelled and besieged predominately civilian areas, and committed abductions, torture and summary killings.

These crimes should not go unpunished. Victims and their families have the right to truth, reparation and justice.

States and entities represented at the Brussels conference, especially the EU, UK, Germany, Norway, Kuwait and Qatar that are co-chairing the conference, should support justice for Syrians through various ways including, but not limited to:

  • Ensuring that justice, accountability and reparation for the victims of war crimes are part of any peace talks, political resolution or post-agreement assistance for Syria.
  • Ensuring that their national courts are able to and do exercise universal jurisdiction to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Syria.
  • Supporting and cooperating with the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism set up by the UN General Assembly on 21 December 2016 that will investigate war crimes under international law in Syria.
  • Publicly expressing and demanding support for justice and reparation for the victims and their families inside and outside Syria.
  • Without a serious commitment from the international community to achieve justice and accountability in Syria, crimes under international law will continue with impunity, and a sustainable peace which includes justice will remain far-fetched.

Join the conversation happening on the #SyriaConf2017 hashtag and ask ministers to commit to mechanisms of justice and accountability.