Prosecuting war crimes: symposium on tackling impunity in Syria Syrian Arab Republic

06.10.2017 - Article

Where do we stand with regard to the investigation and prosecution of war crimes in Syria?

Where do we stand with regard to the investigation and prosecution of war crimes in Syria? This issue was the topic under discussion on Friday (6 October) at a symposium with State Secretary Lindner and international experts at the Federal Foreign Office.

No peace without justice

State Secretary Lindner at the opening of the symposium
State Secretary Lindner at the opening of the symposium© AA

For many years now people have been repeatedly appalled by the images of the suffering endured by Syria’s civilian population. Crimes against men, women and children of various faiths and political affiliation are being committed on a daily basis. Hundreds of thousands have fled Syria.

Even though no end to the violence in Syria is currently in sight, reconciliation can only succeed if the perpetrators of serious human rights infringements are brought to justice. Despite the diversity of their backgrounds, the numerous governmental and non‑governmental organisations are united by one goal: to document and analyse war crimes in Syria so that this data can subsequently be used for court proceedings.

All important players around one table for the first time

On 6 October the Federal Foreign Office brought together the most important players around one table in order to facilitate exchange among themselves and with a wider specialist audience and to coordinate on a common approach. Symposium participants included representatives of the United Nations, non‑governmental organisations and the Federal Public Prosecutor General as well as human rights activists. State Secretary Lindner expressed his sincere thanks to them for their crucial work and stressed: “It is vital that those responsible for these crimes in Syria be brought to justice one day.”

Major challenges in documenting crimes

Mitarbeiter des Roten Halbmonds warten im syrischen Deir ez-Zor auf Lebensmittelabwürfe
Mitarbeiter des Roten Halbmonds warten im syrischen Deir ez-Zor auf Lebensmittelabwürfe© WFP

The symposium participants described in detail the difficulties and challenges they faced in documenting human rights violations in Syria. They explained that documents often had to be smuggled out of the country at great personal risk and victims undergo gentle questioning in the countries to which they had fled from war and crime.

To date the perpetrators have not had to answer to an international court: vetoes from Russia and China have prevented the conflict from being referred to the International Criminal Court and blocked the creation of a new special court such as those set up by the UN Security Council following the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

However, national law enforcement agencies, including the German Federal Public Prosecutor General, are investigating the war crimes committed in Syria. The first judgements have already been passed.

State Secretary Lindner thanked all participants for their engagement and assured them of Germany’s support with criminal investigations in connection with the conflict in Syria. He said that the event provided an opportunity for all sides to work together to find ways to live up to their responsibility in the fight against impunity in Syria.

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Syrian Arab Republic

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