Asem Al Zubi
Before the revolution, human rights work only known in Syria as something related to judiciary and lawyers’ work. Human rights activism did not exist. Human rights were considered to be the crimes that can result in a life sentence in prison.
Human rights violations increased dramatically after the Syrian revolution in 2011. The regime and even some factions related to the armed opposition, both Islamic and moderate ones, have performed human rights violations, including murder, torture, all kinds of detention, and other violations.
Therefore, systematic plans have to be set to document these violations and to categorize them according to the methods adopted by the international legal forums. In Syria today, many organizations work in the human rights field, but they still lack the ability to do such work correctly because they remain novices in this domain without enough experience, and because many of them have only weak legal information.
On the topic of documentation, documentation is the stage of accurate registry of the details of the incidents, events, and pieces of evidence that prove the violations of the rules and laws of human rights and international human law.
Therefore, work has to be done correctly at this stage. The basis of such professional work is following clear criteria.
Though there is still uncertainty about them among human rights organizations, the most important criteria are neutrality and objectivity. Activists and organizations still get mixed up between them. So we have to show the difference as follows:
Neutrality: the researcher must not be biased to any party at all. This principle is often adopted by the human rights organizations.
Objectivity: the researcher’s commitment to non-discrimination principle based on any of the following biases:
1. Religion, sect, or ethnicity
2. Gender or age
3. Political thoughts
Work is most likely done based on this principle in human rights organizations.
After commencing work on these bases, the following stage comes. This stage involves categorizing the subjects that have been documented. This takes place through evidence collection, then storing, and then categorizing into either evidence based on people’s testimonies, material evidence or chain of custody.
Crimes during war are further divided according to their kind: war crimes, crimes against humanity, and normal or simple crimes.
Here we notice the frequency of the crimes and whether they are systematic or not in order to give them their correct description later on.
In Syria, we are trying to achieve justice above all. This is done through the correct implementation of transitional justice, which is one of the new concepts in Syrian society and of which we didn’t know much about in the past.
Transitional justice: a set of judicial and non-judicial procedures a country implements in order to cure the human rights violations inflicted on it.
These procedures include prosecution, inquiry commissions, reparation programs, and different aspects of institutional reform.
So, transitional justice is an approach to achieving justice in the transitional period following the conflict or state suppression by trying to achieve accountability and compensate victims. Thus, transitional justice helps to acknowledge the victims’ rights, encourages civil trust, and enforces the rule of law and democracy.
The importance of transitional justice is that, because systematic violations of human rights do not only affect the direct victims but the whole society, it is the country’s duty to ensure that those violations will not be repeated. The most important duty of transitional justice is to reform the institutions that either took part in the violations or were not able to avoid them.
Elements of transitional justice:
Prosecutions must be directed against these violations.
Governments acknowledge, through reparation, the harms and takes steps to treat them through cash payments for example, in addition to through symbolic gestures like public apology and commemoration.
3. Institutional reform:
“Institutions” includes the suppressive institutions in the government, like the armed forces, police, and courts.
4. Fact-finding committees:
Fact-finding committees, or other means of investigation into the types of violations, who then report them and conduct amendments to help to understand the reasons for the serious violation to human rights.
So, in Syria, after the end of the crisis, the process of treating the regime’s suppressive heritage of human rights violations and destroying the society will not be easy. The same mistakes must not be repeated, and this can be achieved by employing the correct human rights work, based on implementing the correct transitional justice.