New Guide for Syrian Youth Inspires Creative Thinking About Transitional Justice

12/3/2019

New York, December 4, 2019—"Get ready to speak up and be heard because your voice matters!”—that is the message a new guidebook released today on transitional justice sends to Syrian youth. Produced by the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) and Dawlaty, a Syrian human rights organization based in Beirut, “Our Future, Our Justice: Young People Taking Action” introduces the concepts of transitional justice to young audiences in an engaging and interactive way while capturing the nuances and challenges of applying them in difficult contexts.

The guide is intended to serve as both a resource and a practical tool for trainers working with young Syrians. To that end, it draws on examples from around the world to highlight the essential role young people play in transitional justice and includes a range of activities and discussion questions to help young people initiate dialogue and think creatively about justice—broadly conceived—in their communities and beyond.

The ongoing armed conflict in Syria has been characterized by unspeakable brutality and disregard for human rights, and children and young people have not been spared from the violence. In fact, it is estimated that more children have been killed by direct forms of violence in the Syrian conflict than any other in recent history. A lost generation of Syrian youth has been deprived of education, and many have known only violence and hardship.

Yet, as in many other countries including Tunisia and now Lebanon, youth in Syria are also agents of transformational change. The revolution in Syria after all began when a group of young people spray-painted a few words of dissent directed at President Bashar al-Assad on the outside wall of their school. The Assad regime and its allies, of course, have since brought to bear the full might of their combined military forces to silence these and other opposing voices.

“That is why it is imperative that young people’s experiences and demands for justice are heard and taken seriously by transitional justice advocates now and in the future,” explained ICTJ’s special coordinator for Syria, Nousha Kabawat. “We must reject the norms of the past that allowed youth who were affected by violence or had even played an active part in combat or peacebuilding to be excluded from the very decision-making processes that were designed to bring about the change they pushed for. This guide is meant to help young people as they develop their own voice, think through their demands for justice, and develop their own strategies for taking action.”

The guide, however, is not limited to Syrian audiences. The principles and lessons it presents are relevant far beyond that particular context, and the information, activities, and discussion questions can easily be adapted and used by young activists everywhere who wish to get involved with transitional justice or to encourage their peers to do the same.

Partners have already piloted the guide in several places, and so far the reports have been positive. “The guide has served as a reference for national civil society organizations in Sri Lanka to support the engagement of children and young people in reconciliation and transitional justice processes,” said Saudamini Siegrist, a child protection consultant for UNICEF. “The group activities and case study examples are particularly valuable in presenting diverse country contexts and the complexities of accountability, truth, reform, and reparations in any given situation.”