More than 150 experts, diplomats, rights activists, and international lawyers on Thursday discussed progress in setting up an independent database to store and analyze evidence of war crimes in Syria.
They urged the United Nations to boost efforts to create the database of war crimes in Syria, using evidence smuggled abroad by refugees and investigators.
“We already have millions of pages and gigabytes of evidence,” Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders told a conference gathering more than 150 experts, diplomats, rights activists and international lawyers.
“And millions more are waiting — hidden in suitcases and banana crates, buried in case and pits,” Koenders said, voicing the hope that “we can use that evidence to build airtight cases against those guilty of the worst crimes imaginable.”
The UN General Assembly agreed in December 2016 to set up an investigative mechanism to gather evidence on war crimes in Syria.
The move would be an important step towards prosecuting those responsible for atrocities in the war which has left more than 310,000 dead and forced millions to flee as refugees.
“After six years of conflict in Syria, the evidence of war crimes, human rights violations and crimes against humanity is overwhelming,” Koenders said before the experts met behind closed doors.
Koenders said the database, established late last year by the U.N. General Assembly, will send a message that while diplomatic efforts to halt the war are faltering, efforts to ensure accountability for atrocities continue.
“Syrians are taking enormous risks to bring the truth to light,” he added, recalling how one military police officer fled the country with flash drives hidden in his socks containing over 28,000 photos of deaths in regime’s custody.
“These brave people know that their actions won’t save a single victim” as the crimes had already happened, Koenders said. “They put themselves in harm’s way for a different reason: “because they believe that one day justice will prevail.”
Koenders said he wanted to see the perpetrators face justice in The Hague and urged nations to help fund the investigations. “If justice is our goal, then we cannot sit back and wait until the war ends,” he added.
The database is aimed at furthering the work of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism for Syria based in Geneva, which will work under the UN Commissioner for Human Rights.
Delivering justice for crimes in Syria remains elusive. A United Nations Security Council resolution to refer Syrian atrocities to the International Criminal Court was vetoed in 2014 by Russia and China. (Source: Syrian Coalition’s Media Department + Agencies)