In its first report presented today at the United Nations (UN) in Geneva, the head of the UN International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM) on crimes in Syria said that war crimes investigators have collected an “unprecedented volume of information” documenting atrocities committed by all sides during the Syrian war.
Speaking to media at the United Nations in Geneva today (27 Mar), IIIM’s head Catherine Marchi-Uhel, said: “We are faced with unprecedented volume of information and the report stresses the Mechanism’s efforts to turn the challenge of overwhelming volume of documentation into an opportunity and this is by making IT systems and expertise really at the core and a crucial and central part of our operation where data protection but also information security are key priorities.”
Established by the General Assembly in December 2016, and taken up the duties by its head on August 2017, this new mechanism is part of a process aimed at fighting impunity for crimes committed in Syria.
The French magistrate and first person to head this office said: “The Mechanisms’ work on accountability will also proceed independently of the development of the Syrian peace process and will be based on the principle that no amnesty can be granted for core international crimes.”
Catherine Marchi-Uhel added that part of their mandate is also “recognising the important role of civil society, adopting a victim centred approach and empowering affected communities, addressing sexual and gender based crimes and crimes against children and facilitating broader transitional justice.”
The team of Marchi-Uhel will soon finalise an agreement with the Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Syria that has collected evidence and testimony for the past six years and whose work will be complementary to the one of the mechanism.
One of the key challenges the mechanism has identified in its report is the absence of a regular budget. Marchi-Uhel said: “We are still operating under voluntary contribution and it is not actually a mode of contribution that is really appropriate for accountability mechanism. The report therefore identifies this absence of regular budget funding as an issue for us.”
The report also addresses the lack of access to Syrian territory in its collection of evidence of crimes committed in the Syrian Arab Republic as another challenge. In the future, an existing body – such as the International Criminal Court – or a new court could be given jurisdiction for Syria, said the report.
Catherine Marchi-Uhel said: “Depending on whether Syria itself would be asking for it or not could be what has happened for instance with Cambodia, where the government has asked for support of the UN in establishing a tribunal within the courts of Cambodia. There are many other possible avenues.”
By coordinating effectively with national jurisdictions, civil society and other international actors, the mechanism can play a role in promoting a more comprehensive and accountability strategy for Syria. That strategy recognizes the combined role of multiple jurisdiction in ensuring an appropriate measure of justice for the widespread crimes at issue.
Marchi-Uhel said: “Our capacity to support national jurisdiction requires that these jurisdictions are actually respecting human rights, including the principle of fair trial and that there are not applying death penalty. So we couldn’t support a case where death penalty would be at stake.”
The mandate of the mechanism is neither a prosecution office nor a court. First, it has been mandated to collect, consolidate, preserve and analyses evidence of violations. Second, it has the mandate to prepare files in order to facilitate and expedite fair and independent criminal proceedings, in accordance with international law standards, in national, regional or international courts or tribunals that have or may in the future have jurisdiction over these crimes, in accordance with international law. The mechanism’s mandate moves out of the traditional human rights fact-finding realm and falls within a criminal accountability framework.