International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Should Syria have a truth commission?


This editorial presented the argument that Syria must have a truth commission in order to put Syria on the right path towards reconciling their nation from the horrors that it has endured in the last 40 years.  Talks in the Geneva II Conference on Syria are ongoing, however the author, Ayman Al-Yassini, does not hold the opinion that international justice will be enough.  The horrors that the Syrians have endured have stemmed for the environment of fear and insecurity that has recently been ended and was created by many intelligence agencies that oppressed the people and reported directly to President Bashar Assad, agencies that were given nearly free reign to arrest and detain who they please without giving information to the imprisoned.  In addition to the lack to a fair and speedy trial, evidence of torture and murder has been found in detention centers throughout the country.

Al-Yassini writes that only the public revealing of the truth in a truth commission will Syrians first be able to begin the process of accountability, and then of healing and reconciliation.  Al-Yassini adopts a relatively standard definition of truth commissions, writing that a truth commission “would provide justice for all victims, and would act as an effective form of retribution against the perpetrators of such crimes.”  However, he does not take into account the problems that have befallen truth commissions in the past.  Al Yassini claims that a truth commission will provide justice for all victims, yet rarely have truth commissions in the past been as inclusive.  How far is the Syrian government willing to go in terms of reconciliation? How much jurisdiction would the government have over the commission?  One of the criticisms of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which is generally seen as the model for those to come, was that it paid little attention to crimes of violence.  In the case of the fatal tortures of youth and women, would a Syrian Truth Commission take the measures it needs to?

Ultimately, I think Al-Yassini’s editorial is a simple proposal that wasn’t thought out completely, but might be a good idea in getting Syria on the right track to peace.


2 responses to “Should Syria have a truth commission?

  1. tmago2014 March 17, 2014 at 3:55 pm

    I agree in that this proposal seems idealistic and simplistic. Although it would be useful to implement a truth commission with regards to the Syrian conflict, it does not look like the conflict is over and to that end it may be too soon for something like this to be implemented. Furthermore, any sort of truth commission would likely have to happen after a certain period of time where regime turnover has successfully occurred and there is a stable government in place. This would be necessary to ensure accountability and oversight over this commission.

    Moreover, any Syrian administration would likely have to agree to some sort of international oversight (i.e. United Nations) in order to lend it credibility. Otherwise, we will likely see the ‘victors justice’ phenomenon take over. Thus, I don’t think that such a truth and reconciliation commission is the best route for Syria at the moment; it is a good idea, but can only happen after there has been effective administration turnover and the violence has decreased dramatically so that the country is moving towards stability.

  2. agautam1 March 17, 2014 at 4:32 pm

    The main problem I see with this is that Syria is a long way from a position in which a truth commission would be viable. To put it another way, the political will in Syria is far from a situation in which the Assad regime would view a truth commission as an appropriate solution. At the moment, the conflict continues because Assad does not believe he can lose. In order to utilise such justice mechanisms, the Assad regime would need to be held accountable by the Syrian people in a post-conflict situation.

    Second, it is not clear how the influx and influence of non-Syrian fighters would alter this truth commission. Would they be involved? If so, to what degree given the permeation of radical organisations like the al-Nusra front, or ISIS in the region? A number of practical implications of this would need to be addressed, namely the security concerns of having such individuals voice their roles in such a conflict. To be sure, any organisation like al-Nusra would never let members be involved in a truth commission, and thus such a commission would be doomed to a partial truth at best.

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