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Syria: Holistic Approach Needed for Justice
Human Rights Watch
17 December 2013
Concerned governments should take steps toward a comprehensive approach to accountability for the serious crimes committed in Syria, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Policymakers and international donors who support credible criminal prosecutions for grave violations in Syria should learn from the successes and shortcomings of accountability efforts in other parts of the world. 

The 20-page report, “Syria: Criminal Justice for Serious Crimes under International Law,” underlines the urgent need for accountability and examines a number of concrete measures that would contribute to the fair investigation and prosecution, in a properly constituted court, of people responsible for abuses in Syria. The document outlines short-term actions as well as longer-term policies and practices that countries should adopt to demonstrate their commitment to justice.

“The international community should understand that accountability for the horrendous crimes in Syria will be essential for a durable peace,” said Balkees Jarrah, international justice counsel at Human Rights Watch. “The world will need both a variety of judicial tools for justice in Syria and a long-term vision that avoids pitting one measure against another.”

Human Rights Watch outlined a series of recommendations on accountability, including on the involvement of the International Criminal Court (ICC), criminal prosecutions by Syrian courts, and national prosecutions in foreign courts outside of Syria under the principle of universal jurisdiction. The paper also discusses the potential benefits of a specialized court or chamber within the national justice system that would have both international and Syrian staff and would work with the ICC and other Syrian courts on mass atrocity cases.

Human Rights Watch noted that criminal prosecutions are only one element of a larger justice and accountability process. Broader truth-telling mechanisms, reparations, vetting, economic development, and reconstruction will also be needed as part of the process of moving Syrian society forward in a sustainable way.

Over the last two-and-a-half years, Human Rights Watch has extensively documented abuses by government and pro-government forces and concluded that they have committed crimes against humanity and war crimes. The government continues to conduct indiscriminate air and artillery strikes on residential areas and to arbitrarily detain, torture, and extra-judicially execute civilians and combatants.

Human Rights Watch has also documented serious abuses amounting to war crimes by some opposition groups, including the indiscriminate use of car bombs and mortars, kidnapping, torture, and extrajudicial executions. Human Rights Watch has also documented systematic kidnapping and intentional killings of civilians by some opposition groups that may amount to crimes against humanity. 

The Syrian government has not taken any meaningful steps to bring to account government and pro-government forces responsible for violations. The authorities have demonstrated a lack of political will to ensure credible justice for past and ongoing grave human rights abuses. Moreover, there are serious concerns about whether the Syrian judicial system has the capacity to effectively address these large-scale crimes. Opposition forces have not adequately addressed accountability for abuses by their members. As a result, national prosecutions are not an option for now, Human Rights Watch said. (…)
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