A Step Forward: The UN & Justice for Syria

By David M. Crane

(Re-published from Jurist.org | Jan. 1, 2017) On 21 Dec., 2016, 105 member states of the United Nations General Assembly took an important step forward in seeking justice for the people of Syria. The action-taking was a resolution that paves the way for an independent organization to begin collecting, cataloging, and analyzing data and other criminal information coming out of Syria into proper evidence to be used someday by a local, regional, or international prosecutor someday in order to hold accountable all parties committing international crimes in Syria from March 2011 to the present.

“As we began to consider various mechanisms to cure this problem, an accountability center became apparent.”

Since the beginning of the civil war in 2011, there have been dozens of efforts by various nongovernmental organizations to collect data on the crimes being committed in Syria. Though laudable in their efforts, this massive amount of data is useless in a court of law. It is unreliable and not authenticated, with no chains of custody or other safeguards. Essentially almost all of the data being collected regarding crimes in Syria is tainted and inadmissible.

Three organizations did begin to emerge that were working in tangent to correct this problem. One of these is the Syrian Accountability Center, which I founded in March of 2011 to create a trial package for a future local, regional, or international prosecutor. It is designed along the same methods I used to investigate and indict President Charles Taylor for war crimes and crimes against humanity in West Africa. Additionally, two other organizations are doing important work, the Coalition for International Justice and Accountability and the Syrian Justice and Accountability Center. The heads of these three organizations met and briefed various UN ambassadors on the evidence challenges in November. It was there I urged the creation of the accountability center concept.

As we began to consider various mechanisms to cure this problem, an accountability center became apparent, a center run by experienced international criminal law professionals who could take this mass of data already collected, and still coming out of Syria, and turn it into that evidence necessary to hold accountable those parties committing crimes in violation of Syrian and international law.

The international community has spent millions of dollars supporting efforts to build data bases by organizations who in large measure do not have the experience to build a criminal case. The accountability center concept was designed to fix this problem. Throughout Fall 2016, we carefully planned a campaign to garner the support necessary to succeed in creating the accountability center. Under the leadership of ambassadors Christian Weneweser of Lichtenstein and Alya Althani of Qatar various paths were considered from the Security Council, the General Assembly, and possibly a regional organization such as the European Union or the Arab League. The General Assembly was the most realistic pathway to success …

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