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International Criminal Justice Today; Briefing Paper – Towards a Transitional Briefing paper for Syria





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Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war the United Nations has established that over 100,000 people have been killed – with thousands more wounded, detained, and disappeared, massive destruction of property has occurred and around 2 million people have become refugees, with an additional 2.5 million people internally displaced.  Systematic human rights violations, such as the use of chemical weapons against civilians, have been widely verified. With this briefing paper the ICTJ seeks to complement future plans for Syrian transitional justice. In particular, the ICTJ urges the following five key considerations:

  1. Assessment of basic conditions on the ground to determine the feasibility of an accountability process;
  2. Accountability processes developed through a broad consultative process to engender national ownership and incremental credibility;
  3. In-country independent assessments critical to the success of transitional justice measures;
  4. Transitional justice measures such as truth-seeking, criminal justice, reparations, and institutional reform to be implemented collectively; and
  5. Tempering of expectations for quick results coupled with credible and consistent early demonstration of political will.

The paper urges that the purpose of transitional justice is to restore belief in the idea that fundamental human rights can be guaranteed by a state for its citizens.  This means that in the short- to medium-term, progress can be measured in terms of a public sharing of the truth, a credible criminal justice process, a victim-centered reparations program, and reform measures overhauling compromised public institutions.  Transitional justice is premised on accountability for serious crimes, the minimum requirement of which is the commitment of a government to a credible approach to accountability and human rights.

A comprehensive process of planned assessment and consultation providing recommendations for specific measures is also necessary.  Such a process should have three key aims: (1) to gather as much information as possible from a broad spectrum of the Syrian population regarding violations suffered and what measures Syrians feel would be necessary to create a rights-respecting state; (2) to allow the national institution responsible for carrying out assessment and consultation the opportunity to develop legitimacy and credibility;  (3) to allow time for genuine ownership of the process to develop in Syrian society.

In this paper, the ICTJ emphasizes the importance of mapping, assessment, and consultation as opposed to the creation and establishment of specific transitional justice measures.  Instead of imposing hybrid courts, truth commissions, and reparations programs, the ICTJ advocates for adopting measures that are anchored in the society itself to ensure accountability and restored trust amongst Syrians.

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