The Syrian revolution has resulted in one of the largest humanitarian crisis since WW II. According to one of the UN reports, the number of internally displaced Syrians inside Syria is more than 4 million people, let alone hundreds of thousands people who has been martyred, detained, crippled or missing. In addition to mass destruction to the cities and infrastructure. However, no recent solution for the struggle showing any promise.
Prepared by: Mohammad Ruchdi Shurbaji, in coordination with Syrian Prints Archive
Sooner or later, a political solution will be reached at a certain point, upon which, all parties agree to end the war and bloodshed. Then, dealing with the grave violations, holding the perpitrators accountable, seeking for healing will be very challenging to the transitional period. No doubt, the role of media will be very important in violence-calming and reconcilliation instead of revenge.
In the following article, we present a lay summary of transitional justice. In particular, it highlights how the newly-born Syrian newspapers and magazines are tackling this concept and finally we offer some recommendations.
What does Transitional Justice mean?
Many scholars and organizations talk about the long history of transitional justice; i.e. since WW II and the 70s’ of the last century. However, this concept was not used until 1992, according to the researcher Sabah Mukhtar. This concept was used for the first time during the Charter 77 Conference, which was held in Australia, and it was an anti-communism initiative in the Eastern European States.
In his report, Former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan defines the transitional justice as follows: “the full range of processes and mechanisms associated with a society’s attempts to come to terms with a legacy of large-scale past abuses, in order to ensure accountability, serve justice and achieve reconciliation.” Kofi Annan had associated that with comprehensive strategies that may include involvement of individual prosecutions, reparations, truth-seeking, institutional reform, or a combination thereof.
Transitional Justice is a combination of judicial and non-judicial mechanisms that were implemented by various countries in order to heal the repercussions of grave violations of human rights. These mechanisms include judicial prosecutions, Truth Commissions and reparation programs, different forms of institutional reform and ensure that history will not repeat itself. Sometimes, these mechanisms may include fact-finding committees in addition to ways that ensure that the violations will not be repeated. This might include drafting a new constitution or amending the old one as well as adopting new rules and finding the suitable institutions.
Truth and memory are considered one of the transitional justice topics. Communities have the right to know the truth regarding the mass violations of human rights in the aftermath of armed conflicts or suppression practices.
When did taking care of this concept start?
Interest in this issue increased starting from mid of the twentieth century. Conflicts at that time lead to great human suffering that resulted in the end in the death of millions of people, mostly civilians. The international public opinion, in the aftermath of the violations, has increased calling for finding a system that meets the requirements for justice until reaching the truth in a way that ensures reconciliation as well, especially after accountability. Sometimes, this type of justice was called “Post-conflict justice”. Based on that, Chicago principles on post conflict justice were set. Therefore, the transitional justice is considered as a way of thinking that sees democratic change can be achieved through historical agreement that depends on a set of steps and procedures which are supported by a political will”
No matter what researchers called this type of justice, it is important to indicate that the experience and political, moral and legal motifs started to be shaped, though very slowly, in a number of international experiences and places around the world, especially in Europe after WW II regarding victims of Nazis. Later it was shaped in Latin America after the incidents of Chile in the aftermath of the military coup of Pinochet, then after the fall of the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe and after uniting the two parts of Germany.
Examples from Eastern Europe
Researchers refer to two main examples from the states of Eastern Europe, which were adopted there: the first one called for Legal Continuity, as in Bologna and Hungary, especially that the change was very smooth, peaceful and continuous.
The second is the eastern Germany and Czechoslovakia, as the calls for breaking off relations between both of them and Retributive and historical justice.
In other experiences, the international community contributed to achieving the political reconciliation inside a certain society using the transitional justice, as it is the case in peace building processes after the end of civil wars, e.g. Salvador and Guatemala.
Morocco, the first Arab experience
Three decades ago, the concept of transitional justice started to appear in the legal and political-legal literatures in the Arab countries, starting from Morocco, Egypt, and the eastern Arab countries. This has to do with the spread of the democracy culture in general and the legal culture in particular, especially its relation with the spread of the civil society organizations after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the break out of revolutions in Eastern Europe.
Morocco took the lead in the Arab states when the Moroccan king Mohammad the Sixth decided to apologies for his father, AL Hassan the Second’s history, and established the justice and reconciliation committee which was headed by the human rights activist Bin Zekri, who had spent 17 years in Al Hassan the Second’s prisons. The aim of this committee is to participate in forgetting the past and preventing new crisis from happening in the present and future. The committee recorded all the violations committed during the era of Al Hassan the Second, then it supervised the reparation and compensation processes and issued a report and recommendations to which Morocco was committed.
The concept of transitional justice was always present in the discussions that followed the toppling of the regimes in the Arab Spring countries. Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Tunisia have taken important steps in this regard; however, the revolutions were hindered and counter-revolutions started. This contributed into hindering these efforts to a great extent.
Iraq, a disastrous experience
One of the disastrous experiences for the transitional justice in the Arab world to be mentioned is the Iraqi experience. A committee to eradicate Baath Party was formed in 2003 presided by Ahmad Jalabi in order to “clear” the Iraqi Republic from the Baath staff. During ten years of the committee’s work, it fired tens of thousands of employees from their jobs. The “eradication” process was politicized to a great extent and very ambiguous which marked it with ethnic revenge. In the result, the tens of thousands of those who lost their jobs become enemies for the new country and participated to a great extent in the armed insurgence later on.
“ The transitional justice is a complementary set of mechanisms and various methods to understand and treat the past human rights’ violations, through discovering the truth, holding the perpetrators accountable, reparation for damage and redressing the victims, in a way that achieves national reconciliation, protects and documents the collective memory, guarantees that these violations will not be repeated and move from the state of tyranny to a democratic regime that contributes into enhancing the human rights system ”
Is it possible to have transitional justice in Syria?
Hazem Nahar, says in his article that was published in Enab Baladi on 8 April 2012 that there are many important points to be taken into consideration regarding the transitional justice in Syria, benefiting from the Arab and international experiences:
- The importance of the national contexts in identifying the tracks of the transitional justice
- The powerful connection between the transitional justice and the democratic change and importance of the political will.
- The importance of the role of the victims in making the transitional justice experience successful
- The vitality of the role that can civil societies play in achieving the transitional justice
- The importance of dialogue between the political elites and components in the community as a step towards engaging in establishing the Transitional justice.
- The Syrian people must understand that establishing the transitional justice is a long term process.
- The importance of judicial reform
- The importance of standing against the calls for eradicating the ruling Baath Party within the context of calling to topple the regime because this will re-establish the political ban according to Nahar.
The researcher Jeremy Sarkin says that amnesty, reparations, and compensations are choices for Syria regarding the transitional justice.
Of course, there are great obstacles to face the transitional justice in Syria including, but not limited to the following:
- The solution of the political dialogue will identify the track of the transitional justice in Syria. In this case, it is possible that accepting the political solution will result in a judicial immunity and impunity, which will make the war criminals in Syria lead the political scene similar to what happened in Lebanon.
- The large numbers of those involved in committing crimes in Syria. Trying to arrest all of them and holding them accountable for their crimes will create great turmoil in a vulnerable country such as Syria. While leaving them means impunity and setting them free from punishment similar to what happened in Argentina
- What is the legal authority that is going to govern the work of courts and Truth Commissions? As justice now in Syria suffers from huge fractions between justice that is completely under Assad’s control and tens of Sharia committees which are under the control of the opposition as well as Kurdish courts.
- What is the time frame for monitoring the violations? Starting from the Syrian revolution 2011? Or starting from the Baath coup d’état in 1963? Or before?
- The local judicial system may fail to achieve this task, so cases are filed to the international criminal court. If we take into consideration that Syria will be a poor country with people worn out of war and poverty, what is the priority then? Funding the international courts, though they cost millions of dollars? Or satisfying the daily bread and livelihood for the citizens?
The Syrian Organizations for Transitional Justice
Many organizations and bodies for transitional justice were established in Syria, and their work was concentrated mainly on documentation, releasing some periodic reports and organizing workshops on transitional justice, including, but not limited to the following:
The Syrian Commission for Transitional Justice
The commission was established after a resolution by the head of the Syrian Interim Government, Ahmad Touma. It convened its inaugural conference in March 2014 presided by Rwdwan Ziadeh and 12 staff. The commission was marked by strong bureaucracy so that it lack its effectiveness. Its activities were only establishing a specialized database, organizing workshops for transitional justice and then it stopped operating after one year because the interim government went broken and was not able to pay salaries for its employees, according to one of the commission employees. For a year of work, the name of the commission was not mentioned in any of the new Syrian media hubs.
The Syrian Center for Justice and Accountability
The center was established in September 2012, supported by American-Moroccan governments and run by the legal activist Mohammad Al Abdullah. The center has small offices in Washington and The Hague. It works now on documenting the violations perpetrated by all parties in Syria.
Al Abdullah, in a skype interview with Enab Baladi, says that “the role of the new Syrian newspapers in serving the transitional justice is first to introduce the public to the general term of transitional justice, try to let the Syrian citizens understand their reality and the challenges they face and start proposing these ideas and try to reach a solution” and he considers “partnership with local newspapers to promote these concepts and serving them is very essential”
The Center for Civil Society and Democracy
It was established in December 2011 and headed by the activist Rajaa Talli. The CCSD organized tens of workshops and seminars about transitional justice and civil peace. It is active in the northern part of Syria especially Hassakeh as it works in particular on the Arab-Kurdish relations.
The center saught to coordinate with the new Syrian newspapers and published articles in Enab Baladi in over than 20 editions in a weekly column to pomote transitional justice, civil society and civil peace concepts. It also published articles in Dawdaa and Hinta magazines, then stopped publishing articles in other newspapers after establishing their own magazine “Swar” which is a monthly magazine, of which 20 editions are published so far.
The Printed Syrian Media and Transitional Justice
It is difficult to follow up all the things written in the newly-born Syrian media regarding the transitional justice. Therefore, we tried to concentrate on some local newspapers of certain nature (geographic or ethnic) and others that are more popular, taking advantage in our research from the services provided by the “Syrian Prints Archive” website.
It is generally noticed that the new Syrian newspapers lack covering the topic of transitional justice in broader details. Covering this topic was limited to one or two articles within long intervals of time. Some newspapers did not write about this concept at all, despite the fact that some of them are interested in the legal sector and human rights in general, such as Al Kawakbi human rights newspaper. Yet, it is important to refer to that the articles of the newly-born Syrian media consists an important addition to the transitional justice. Hundreds of reports done by these newspapers are considered important documents that can be benefited from in the field of documenting the violations, identifying the perpetrators and listing damages. It is also important in recording and saving the Syrian memory through the momentary documentation of the feelings and emotions of the people.
Tlaana Al Hurrieya Newspaper (The most prominent exception)
A bimonthly newspaper, issued by the Local Coordination Committees, its first edition was issued in February 2012. It stopped many times for several reasons. It is now printed and distributed inside Syria and some of the refugees’ camps.
This newspaper is considered almost the only exception regarding covering issues of transitional justice. In edition number zero, Ahmad Kanaan wrote an article entitled: “why it is not possible to close the door of repentance?” then in edition number (1), Mahmoud Keilani wrote about the issue of amnesty: “Who is going to grant amnesty to whom?” later on, the newspaper covered broadly this concept on four successive editions starting from edition 3 till edition 6. In edition 7, the newspaper published an article entitled: “When the Syrian Regime’s crimes to be referred to the ICC?”
We can say that concentrating on this concept continued later on in the newspaper. An article published in edition 29 “the real revenge is justice” and so on.
It is noticed in the latest editions that this concept was less under focus while other issues were more highlighted.
The newspaper editor-in-chief, Mrs. Laila Al Safadi, explains that the wide coverage of this concept at the beginning of the newspaper was due to two reasons: “at the beginning, we had hopes that the Syrian regime is about to be toppled very soon, and we used to see that transitional justice will no doubt be one of the coming stage concepts. The second reason is the presence of Mrs. Razan Zeitouneh and Mr. Nazem Hamadeh within the newspaper team. Both of them have long experience in the field of law and human rights, and this concept is considered at the core of their work. The absence of the aforementioned reasons made the transitional justice not a priority compared to other issues we tackle”.
Dawdaa is a monthly magazine issued by the Syrian Center for Media and Publishing Center. It covers Sweida in particular and the southern area in general. It is not published in a regular basis.
Dawdaa concentrated on the concept of transitional justice, civil peace and anti-sectarianism frequently. In edition 1, the magazine made a wide coverage of the civil peace conference which was held in Istanbul. In edition 2, it published an opinion article in coordination with the Center for Civil Society and Democracy about transitional justice. In edition 6 entitled “towards a unified mutual national vision and a mutual national project for a democratic civil state” by Soud Al Mawla. We can also find in the magazine anti-sectarianism statements, with a special concentration on this issue in their interviews. In edition 4, there was an interview with the general Marwan Al Hamad, he said: “We do not fight from a sectarian perspective, any part of Syria is our land and defending our people is an honor to us”.
We think that Dawdaa mainstream twoards issues of transitional justice and, civil peace and sectarianism reflects the speciality of the area which population is Druze in majority.
İt was established in september 2011 and considered one of the earliest new syrian printed newspapers. To the contrary of all the newspapers we reviewed, we found out that Souriatna newspaper represents one of the very few exceptions as it covers the legal issues in syria very broadly, including the transitional justice.
Starting from the very first editions, the newspaper specified the “legal page” (almost page number 10) to promote transitional justice’s concepts and meanings. In edition 8, Yaser Marzouk wrote an article antitled: “The Military Judicial System”. Later, in edition 13, he wrote about the special amnesty and general amnesty. Then, in cooperation with Laila Al Samman, Marzouk wrote an important article entitled: “the national reconciliation and transitional justice”.
A monthly magazine issued by a group of young Alawites people who oppose the regime in the coastal areas in August 2012. It stopped being issued late 2013 after issuing 17 editions.
Sendyan was characterized as being one of very few newspapers issued by the opposition to enter somehow the “world” of those who support the regime in the coastal areas. Due to this special characteristic, it concentrated on minorities’ issues and compulsory recruitment in the Syrian army starting from the first edition “the minorities and the revolution, the best choice for the minorities”. It published a special edition about the revolution in Sweidaa city. Starting from edition 2, it published a series entitled “Minorities papers” to mention, but not limited to, in edition 4: “the mercenaries and the coastal areas”, the Alawites regime in Syria” in edition 5 and an article about transitional justice in edition 6.
The editor-in-chief of Sendyan, who preferred not to mention his name for security reasons, explains this mainstream of the newspaper: “we tried to target two completely different audiences, if not enemies, in the coastal area. We tried to address them with deeply-rooted issues, things they discuss in secret and do not dare to mention in public. However, when they read our newspaper, they know exactly that these articles express their own pain and suffering. We tried to convey a message that in the opposition “planet”, there are things other than armed groups, terrorists and infiltrators as they assume”.
He adds: “on the other hand, we tried to address the opposition and show them that in the coastal area, there are normal “people” who are leading their normal lives and have their own normal problems and they are not only mercenaries”.
Enab Baladi Newspaper
A weekly newspaper issued from Darayya at the beginning of 2012. 186 editions are issued so far and it is one of the most followed and spread newspaper among the new Syrian media.
Enab Baladi hardly ever cover issues related to transitional justice. A small article was issued in edition 4 about the International Criminal Court. Then in edition 10, an article written by Hazem Nahar entitled: “the transitional justice and impunity” in addition to an article, in cooperation with the Center for Civil Society and Democracy in the back cover page of edition 26. It is noticed that this concept is completely absent in the newspaper for more than a year now.
After interviewing the editor-in-chief of Enab Baladi about the lack of concentration on transitional justice by the newspaper, he explained that “the lack of knowledge and awareness regarding this concept by the staff working in the newspaper, in addition to having big doubts by the Syrian people concerning reaching the point of transitional justice compared to the grave developments Syria witnesses today.”
Tamadon and We all Syrians
Tamadon is a weekly newspaper issued in mid-June 2013. 90 editions were issued so far. We all Syrians is a quarterly newspaper, the first edition of which was issued in February 2014. 37 editions were issued so far.
We can say that tackling the transitional justice concept in both newspapers is similar to Enab Baladi. Only two articles about the transitional justice were issued in We all Syrians newspaper in edition 2 entitled: “the transitional justice” by Mamoun Jaabary and in edition 9, another article entitled “the transitional justice, a reading in the concept and needs”
The same thing applies for Tamadon, we found few articles about transitional justice, such as an article in edition 7 entitled “how justice can be transitional?” and an article in edition 34 entitled: “the transitional justice in the perspective of criminal pursuit”
As its name shows, the transitional justice needs preparation for the culture of the society that passes “transitionally” form one stage to another, from chaos to stability, from war to peace, or from dictatorship to a more open regime. Therefore, lacking any political solution in the Syrian revolution’s recent future, and unreachable transitional justice, if to say, and the weak knowledge about the alternative media are the main reasons that made the coverage of this concept by the newly-born Syrian media very weak and hesitant.
However, despite that, the new media served the issue of the transitional justice indirectly through documenting the events and recording the memory. The newly issued newspapers are full with reports and stories that have great benefit in the legal and documentary side, let alone recording the collective memory as we mentioned earlier.
The civil society and the non-governmental societies are one of the most prominent factors that ensure the success of the transitional justice. Therefore, the new media newspapers shall seek participation with the Syrian centers concerned with the concept of the transitional justice in order to promote it and gather efforts in this regard as most of these newspapers are printed and distributed among Syrians and their communities, which still lack awareness in this regard.