Substantial element to address Syrian’ suffering in their pursuit of redress and accountability.
At the onset of any political or conflict resolution initiative concerns, and challenges arise to the peace-building process through cessation of hostilities and further avoiding recurrence of the mass killings of the past war-crimes. Implicit in this concept “none-recurrence” is the idea that in order to build and assure democratic and nonviolent future, it is necessary to create the conditions that will deter political state violence, so that it will “never again” be repeated by future regimes, arguably. One major recent methodology that has been developed and utilized in both conflict or post-conflict societies is saving the memory of the past and ongoing atrocities.
During a state of conflict and mass killing, notably in regimes repression against civil right movement and rebels is to remember the widespread violence so that accountability could be achieved, and implementing transitional justice in the following stage. But when the violence and heinous crimes are beyond measures how remembering is plausible and what is to be held accountability
Recalling the political violence, state repression, human suffering, the social and political conditions that allowed the violent conflict to emerge is part of what we have a duty to remember.
At the time of transition in the 1980s in South America after the long internal conflict, memorization of the political violence and the atrocities committed by the state. The creation of this memory was justified in terms of the contribution of memory to the construction of the emerging democratic regimes consolidating transitional justice. It was conceived of this documentation of these memories of past violence as the foundations of democratic citizenship in the future.
At that time, there was an intrinsic relationship between the activation of memories of the repressive past and the process of democratic institutionalization. The belief was that only through remembering and creating an accountability system, through an active policy related to the past, so just and democracy, redress for victims could be constructed and transformations toward the future envisaged.
Civil society embankment in documentation
In Syria, in an ongoing political dillama and the continuum of the mass violence, documentation of the mass genocides and suffering of the people have become vital to archive documentation and uphold in the future the state violence into accountability.
The documentation is being undertaken through a wide range of independent journalists on the ground and civil society organizations. In addition to their fundamental role saving lives, the White Helmet (Syria Civil Defense) for instance has been creating one of the biggest archives of the war-crimes of the Syrian regime and its allies since its establishment in 2013. Abdul-Rahman Al Mawas the official spokesman of the White Helmets illustrated that their work has not mainly been directed to document war-crimes. The White Helmets’ volunteers responded to the aerial mortar bombardment of the civilian population areas that killed the overwhelming civilian population.
We filmed and documented the martyrs and wounded in every attack site that our volunteers go to as part our daily rescue mission, not as a primary role of our work, however, we realized the importance of these documents in saving Syrian memories and war crimes of the regime to which can be used as evidence in international courtsAbdul-Rahman Al Mawas the official spokesman of the Syrian Civil Defense
The White Helmets kept a policy of documenting and securing those evidence, so they are not lost and kept safe for the coming generation. The civil society organization, the spokesman explained, further offers and opens its materials for any international organization that seeks to bring to justice the war criminal and perpetrators to bring justice and redress for the Syrian people whose suffering and death is still ongoing.
However, in the international realm, various challenges arise for justice firms in their pursuit to try the Ba’ath war criminals. The immense amount of material by civil society actors and journalists must Haid Haid, a fellow at the Chatham House in London explains that actors involved in the documentation process “should document cases according to international standards to ensure that their data can be used as admissible evidence. Then it can also work with international organizations such as the International Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM) to establish linkage evidence to tie perpetrators, whether individuals, structures or institutions, to specific crimes. This requires establishing administrative proof such as records of orders, command structure, etc.” Haid said
“Towards that end, actors working on this issue should collect and preserve evidence in a clear formation that can be accessed easily even decades in the future.”
A memory saving role in social transformation is to address these issues and struggles the nation has suffered from its regime. Memory relates to institutional processes at the level of the state, symbolic and cultural processes affecting broader society, and related initiatives in education and memory transmission. The act of producing effective justice tools of redress, saving memory in the international criteria that neither civil society actors nor individuals have been adequately trained in order to produce international admissible pieces of evidence.
The main goal is to keep a record of what happened in Syria so people, either now or in the future, can access that information. And know what happenedHaid Haid, a fellow at the Chatham House in London
This task is especially important as many propaganda campaigns have been launched over the past years in order to misrepresent what happened and continue happening in Syria.”
Disruption of the victim’s memories and denial of criminality.
According to Haid, Many Syrian and international organizations are archiving what’s happening for when the right time comes to hold perpetrators accountable. The ability to challenge the accuracy of archived evidence depends mainly on how it was collected and stored. Unlike media campaigns, which can spread misinformation without evidence through spreading doubts, pieces of evidence are harder to manipulate in legal proceedings especially when they are collected and stored according to international standards. Therefore, it is important for those who are documenting evidence to know how to do it. Likewise, it is important to work with credible international organizations that can assist in doing it the right way and ensure that the evidence is properly secured for when the right time comes.
The regime or state violence has not only been increasing yet denies to acknowledge its crimes and further endeavoring to undermine the irrefutably materials journalists and civil society actors on the grounds are streaming daily on social media. “The Assad regime accompanied with his allies have been systemically trying to distort the global attention with baseless fabricated news about our work. “Al-Awas said
Inconsistency media campaigns have been trying to swiftly grab global attention from the real crimes. Renewable media guerrilla campaigns led by Russian-Syrian trolls constantly accusing the White Helmets in particular.
The campaign designers are attempting to tamper and weaken the materials that we share with the international media. Furthermore, knowing that these pieces of evidence are a cornerstone in the future accountability process in Syria and spread distorted news and information and consequently make our archive not taken seriously by the international actors in the future.
Haid explains that, although much of the documentation data may not be admissible as evidence in judicial proceedings, it can play an important role in supporting broader justice processes in the future such as truth-finding, reparations, and restoration programs. Likewise, mapping the violations in Syria, coupled with information about the political and humanitarian context in which the violations were committed, can guide future investigators that may be relevant for truth-telling and reconciliation.
Memory Saving and transitional justice binary
Nonetheless, the white helmets have been tireless, rescuing and documenting according to the international criteria of war-evidence of the ongoing mass genocides across northern Syria in order to guarantee admissibility of the gathered materials. “We continue our work hoping that justice can be one day achieved, and perpetrators can be brought to court upholding the redress principle to millions of Syrians in their pathway towards transitional justice.” The Spokesman explains.
Gathering enough evidence and raising awareness about the atrocities committed can help mobilize local communities to pressure authorities to establish a transitional justice process in the future. It can also use that community pressure to hold those in charge accountable and prevent a political deal at the expense of serving justice.
These types of documentation can serve to recognize survivors of conflict, raise awareness of the in-country situation and contribute to future memorization and truth-seeking processes.
Victims need to tell the truth about what happened in order to know that their suffering has not been ignored or neglected. Likewise, documenting what happened can help design reparations and restoration programs.
In Syria, where the conflict has resulted in the widespread destruction of public and personal assets, reconciliation cannot take place without tackling the issue of restoring property and compensation as part of the transitional justice process. Thus, evidence collection can also help the state in the future to identify priorities, which will be especially pressing as the state resources for reparations will likely be limited.