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As of May 2013, Syria finds itself in the middle of a violent and increasingly complex revolution. The death toll exceeds 70,000 with tens of thousands more injured, of unknown whereabouts and locked in detention centres where torture and abuse have become routine. This violence has driven millions of Syrians from their homes and communities with an estimated 1.3 million Syrians forced to take refuge in neighbouring countries and several million more displaced within Syria itself.
Syria’s revolution started in February 2011 when protestors took to the streets demanding an end to the abuses of power and political oppression that had ruled their society for decades. State security forces responded with violence, intimidation and arrests. In the following months and years, thousands have continued to take to the streets in cities across Syria; the confrontations have grown increasingly violent and the risks to civilians continue to grow day by day.
Against that background, this publication addresses one issue that is inextricably linked to establishing sustainable peace: transitional justice. A stable and sustainable peace in Syria, governed by the rule of law, requires a comprehensive justice and accountability process to defeat the culture of impunity that has allowed violations to go unchallenged for decades.
Syrians are well aware of the cost of impunity: the memory and impact of massacres and violent political confrontations in the 1970s and 1980s are still being felt. There is now a growing determination to confront the country’s history of impunity and ensure that it is not allowed to continue undermining Syria’s prospective peace and stability. Justice, which is the antithesis of impunity, can only be achieved through a well-planned and coordinated national process that avoids “victors’ justice” and further divisive acts of revenge and retaliation.
Transitional justice is a concept far broader than criminal justice. Individual criminal accountability plays a major role in a transitional justice process, but other aspects of accountability are also crucial to reach the broader goals of the process. These might include fact-finding or truth-telling processes to shed light on a period of oppression and allow for an understanding of the broader political culture and the role of specific institutions, memorialisation to remember the victims, and official apologies, amongst other things.
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Dawlaty is a non-profit foundation works on promoting the participation and engagement of Syrian youth in the state building process in Syria through capacity building and development of training kits and materials.