Dear United Nations Secretary-General,
Dear High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy,
Dear Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management,
Dear Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy,
Dear Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development,
Dear Political and Security Committee Ambassadors,
Ahead of the 24-25 April “Brussels II Conference”, the undersigned international and Syrian Non Governmental Organisations call on the European Union and the United Nations to ensure that accountability for atrocities in Syria and justice for victims be integrated as a central concern of the discussions on the “future of Syria”.
Seven years into the conflict, the near total absence of accountability for grave violations of human rights and humanitarian law and of redress for victims have further entrenched the culture of impunity that arose over decades of repression in Syria. This impunity is one of the root causes of the conflict. Any conference to discuss the country’s future must not brush aside the question of accountability for crimes committed in Syria.
Impunity is affecting all Syrians inside and outside of Syria and will have severe long-term consequences if not addressed urgently. Impunity for past and present crimes gives a blank check to perpetrators and abusers to continue committing serious human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law, and threatens to undermine popular trust in any judicial system reconstructed from its repressive forebears. Feelings of injustice and the absence of redress will result in frustration and in a fertile soil for extremism; they will prevent the rehabilitation of victims and the restoration of trust and confidence in new state institutions and in the rule of law.
Furthermore, the sense of persistent injustice that accompanies total impunity will prevent Syrians who have fled their country from voluntarily returning.
The UN General Assembly’s creation of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism for Syria mandated to collect and analyse evidence of crimes for the prosecution of those responsible for the most serious crimes is an important step towards combating impunity for grave violations of international law and towards accountability. Likewise, ongoing investigations and proceedings before national justice systems in some European Union member states, including those based on universal jurisdiction, have provided a much-needed source of hope for accountability and justice in the absence of more comprehensive solutions.