The war in Syria has resulted in innumerable human rights violations. However, impunity reigns supreme for most of these crimes. ICTJ works with Syrian civil society and international policymakers to raise awareness about the war’s devastating impacts on victims, help victims obtain acknowledgment for the harms they suffered, and address and purse accountability for these violations while building sustainable peace.
The conflict in Syria began in March 2011 as a peaceful popular uprising against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Protesters were met with brutal violence by the government and the revolution eventually transformed into a full-scale, complex civil war between the al-Assad regime and an armed opposition involving both state and non-state actors, as well as various allied international powers.
The root causes of the conflict date back decades. The repressive policies of Bashar al-Assad and his father before him created an authoritarian state. Tactics such as torture, political detention, and repression of civil liberties were common, facilitated by an emergency law enforced for nearly five decades.
The conflict has been characterized by a disturbing disregard for international human rights and international humanitarian law. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed and even more have been forcibly disappeared or tortured. Flagrant attacks on communities, documented by civil society groups, have destroyed vital infrastructure and public services, including hospitals and over 1,200 schools.
As the conflict drags on, the human cost continues to rise, with millions of Syrians forcibly displaced, including millions who have been forced to flee the country. Children have experienced particular harms, including lasting trauma and disabilities, a lack of education, and the risk of radicalization.
The lack of progress in peace and political negotiations to bring the conflict to an end and obstacles to pursuing formal redress and legal accountability have been major sources of frustration and fatigue among civil society groups. Interest in the role of transitional justice for the country, however, has not diminished.
ICTJ supports Syrian civil society and victims groups in their efforts to document ongoing abuses in Syria, obtain acknowledgment for the violations they experienced, pursue accountability for those violations, and achieve justice.
Working with Syrian civil society. ICTJ works closely with eight Syrian organizations based in Turkey and Lebanon, as a part of a collaboration, to strengthen existing efforts to document human rights violations, expose the human impact of the conflict, develop collective strategies to uphold Syrians’ rights, and prepare the groundwork for future transitional justice processes.
The collaboration has focused its efforts on the targeted attacks on schools in Syria and the long-term impact they have had on communities. It published the report “‘We Didn’t Think It Would Hit Us:’ Understanding the Impact of Attacks on Schools in Syria,” which explores these attacks and the lack of acknowledgment and accountability for them. Most recently, the collaboration produced “A Guide Through the Untold Darkness: The Realities of Syria’s Disappeared, Arbitrarily Detained, and their Families,” which takes readers on a journey all too familiar to many Syrians, from the immediate aftermath of a loved one’s disappearance—and the frantic search for answers—through the painful process of settling the disappeared person’s affairs.
Advocating for sustainable solutions for a future Syria. Through policy briefs, advocacy, and regular research projects, ICTJ and its partners are able to influence ongoing conversations related to justice and human rights in Syria and sustainable solutions for the future. ICTJ supports victims and their communities and works closely with them to achieve lasting justice during and following the conflict. Through its partnership with actors involved in Syrian negotiations and seeking a political solution, ICTJ is helping to ensure that any roadmap for Syria’s future includes a transitional justice strategy and a victim-centered approach.