Preparing for Justice in a Post-Assad Syria

The ongoing brutality of the conflict in Syria has flooded news headlines with renewed intensity this week after reports that over 100 bodies had been discovered in a river in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo.

Photographs show corpses lining the river bank: many with their hands bound, and some reportedly teenagers. Outrage, grief, and horror over Aleppo felt in Syria and the world have only amplified the ongoing call for international action to stop the abuses in Syria.

Though the future of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime remains to be seen, some are already planning for the complex aftermath of the regime’s demise.

On January 26-27, Syrian activists joined ICTJ and other international experts in Istanbul for two days of discussion on possibilities for transitional justice in Syria.

“Civil society must be engaged in transitional justice processes if they are to reach their full potential.”
    The conference, entitled “Transitional Justice in Syria: Accountability and Reconciliation,” was the second to be held by the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies (SCPSS) on the topic of a post-Assad political transition in Syria.

Syrian political opposition leaders, including leaders of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, met face to face with Syrian religious and minority leaders, families of the victims, as well as judges, lawyers, and human rights activists.

“The attention that Syrian activists are giving to transitional justice issues is very welcome,” said Claudio Cordone, ICTJ Program Director. “It is encouraging to see Syrians engage seriously with such critical issues, even as the situation in Syria continues to be tragic and the outcome uncertain.”

In their remarks, international experts emphasized lessons learned from other post-conflict transitional justice programs, aiming to illuminate opportunities and challenges of transitions faced by other countries, including successes and failures of various transitional justice experiences.

Among the speakers, Deputy Director of ICTJ's Middle East and North Africa Program Anne Massagee highlighted the importance of civil society contributions in the development of an inclusive and comprehensive transitional justice strategy.

“Experience around the globe has shown that civil society must be engaged in transitional justice processes if they are to reach their full potential, and to create meaningful change,” she said.

The conference concluded with the establishment of a “National Preparatory Committee for Transitional Justice” to develop plans for accountability, reparation, reform and reconciliation in Syria. Women comprise 40% of the committee’s membership, which hails from diverse professional and social backgrounds. Some of the members are based in Syria but their identity has not been made public for security reasons.

VIDEO: Interview with Radwan Zaideh, executive director of the Washington-based Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies (from MinWashington News):

Additional video coverage of the conference (Arabic)

Read more: David Tolbert on why transitional justice is no "quick fix" for Syria

PHOTO: Smoke rises from the Karmal Jabl neighborhood, during clashes between rebel fighters and the Syrian army in Aleppo, Syria in 2012. (AP Photo/Narciso Contreras)