Photo: Amnesty International

Overwhelming Evidence on War Crimes in Syria

Photo: Amnesty International

Stephen Rapp, non-resident fellow at The Hague Institute, commented oncommented on Amnesty’s report on Saydnaya prison in Damascus and our work regarding fact-finding enhancing accountability in interviews with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour and the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf.

A recent report by Amnesty International claims 13,000 Syrians, held in the Saydnaya prison in Damascus, have been hanged and buried in mass graves. According to Syrian activists, the number of people who have died in Syrian prisons due to malnutrition and a lack of medicine and water exceeds 60,000.

In response to Amanpour, Rapp answered, “The evidence we have is massive and overwhelming, far better than they had at Nuremberg or at the Yugoslavia Tribunal or that we had in Sierra Leone with Charles Taylor. This is strong evidence that would make for a great trial if we could organize it at the international level.”

The interview also included video footage by Amnesty in which former Syrian prisoners testified to the circumstances of their imprisonment and the treatment to which they were subjected. According to Rapp, the improvements regarding coordinated efforts of victims’ communities and organizations that gather documentation will make it more likely that justice will be served.

“The people who are committing these crimes will never be able to sleep, because this kind of evidence will be there and will be available to prosecute.”

Commission of Inquiry in Geneva gathers evidence war crimes committed by the Assad regime, and CIJA has contributed greatly to the documentation of these crimes, but documentation alone is not enough to legally hold perpetrators to account.

However, the UN has recently established an accountability mechanism for Syria, that can take the evidence and documentation that is available and build cases so perpetrators can be held accountable. This is unprecedented, said Rapp. He reiterated that “justice is coming.”

The documentation of war crimes in Syria has improved dramatically, Rapp told De Telegraaf, but the lack of real accountability is therefore all the more frustrating. “But such is the nature of the international justice system.”

However, that does not diminish the importance of documentation efforts such as Amnesty’s report. “We have better evidence now than we had against the Nazis. The latter didn’t take photographs of individual victims,” said Rapp. He added, “Like the guards at Auschwitz, those responsible for these crimes should fear prosecution for the rest of their lives.”

Watch the full CNN interview here. Please note that it contains some graphic images.

The full article in De Telegraaf can be read, in Dutch, here.

Further Reading

Active: Fact-Finding in Lebanon

This three-year project, Fact-finding in Lebanon:  The Netherlands Support to Forensic Capability and Uptake in Lebanon, aims to ensure an integrated approach to forensics in…


Active: Distinguished Speaker Series

The Distinguished Speaker Series (DSS) showcases eminent practitioners in international affairs and is the centerpiece of the Institute’s high-level engagement with practitioners and academics in the city…


Completed: Employment for Stability

The project seeks to analyze the interrelated economic outcomes and opportunities in Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Indonesia and Liberia and how aid interventions may improve both development…