Amplifying Victims' Voices in Syria


This story of change is the second in a five-part series exploring the role of transitional justice in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 16 on peace, justice, and inclusion and related goals on gender and inequality. For more information on our work to advance SDG 16 and related goals, see the recommendations of the Working Group on Transitional Justice and SDG 16+. 

Read the other stories in the series:

Tarek al-Massri, an 18-year-old from Homs now living in Germany, knows all too well the horrors of the conflict in Syria and its devastating impact on schools. In an effort to flee the violence, he and his family began moving around. As a result, Tarek missed months of school at a time, once for a year when his family first moved to al-Raqqa. He eventually enrolled in school there, but, shortly after, snipers fired at his school. “I was afraid for my life and was thinking about my parents,” Tarek said about the experience. “I hoped they had not died, and for them, I hoped nothing would happen to me.” Another time, Tarek witnessed fellow students being beaten and shot, including “two students who I have not seen or heard from since, so I don’t know what happened to them.”

When snipers attacked the school a second time, Tarek and his classmates managed to escape. But upon leaving, Tarek stumbled upon a body that he later came to find out was his close friend and neighbor. It was “too difficult to bear,” he said. “I had been used to seeing blood and death everywhere, but this was very difficult.” After the incident, Tarek dropped out school for two years, while his family sought safe haven in other parts of Syria, then Lebanon, Turkey, and finally Germany.

“Hopefully, my country will again be a place where people can study and be safe,” Tarek said, concluding his testimony at a public hearing held in Geneva in March 2018. Convened by ICTJ, as part of the Save Syrian School project, the hearing not only offered acknowledgment to victims in the absence of any other form of redress, but also provided ways for the international community to pay heed to the voices of those impacted Led by ICTJ, Save Syrian Schools brings together 10 Syrian organizations to document the devastating impacts of attacks on schools in Syria and to demand justice for these attacks and an end to the killing of children in Syria.

“I’ve always felt like there isn’t anything I can do for Syria anymore because I’m outside the country,” Tarek shared after the hearing. “But after giving my testimony I felt like I was able to tell people the truth about Syria and somehow help my people.”

PHOTO: A child in the Al-Sakhoor neighborhood of East Aleppo carries manuals distributed by UNICEF on identifying and reporting unexploded objects. (UNICEF)