Timmermans: Evidence of crimes in Syria needs to be gathered now

On Wednesday, speaking at the United Nations in New York, Minister of Foreign Affairs Frans Timmermans stressed the importance of carefully documenting evidence of crimes against humanity and other atrocities committed in Syria. Documenting organisations therefore deserve the full support of the international community.

‘These crimes are being committed as we speak, so now is the time to talk to witnesses and Syrians who have managed to flee the country,’ Mr Timmermans said. ‘There is a tremendous amount of information available that can be gathered. This is the only way to ensure that those guilty of crimes do not escape punishment.’
The Minister added that it is paramount, with a view to prosecution, that international crimes are documented carefully, independently and in a timely fashion. ‘Particularly in situations where the national justice system is not functioning properly and the ICC cannot yet be involved.’

To this end the Netherlands and Denmark have asked a group of like-minded countries to step up support for the organisations gathering evidence in the region. Countries including the United States, Switzerland, Germany, Australia and Luxembourg have signed up to the initiative. The session in New York was also attended by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein.

Together the partner countries will establish a forum in which all documenting organisations can come together and learn from one another. In addition, the international community will make expertise available to check that all the information documented meets international standards. ‘This will ensure that the material can actually be used in court when the time comes,’ Mr Timmermans said.

In addition, the Minister believes it is important to examine whether individuals suspected of war crimes can be prosecuted elsewhere. This is possible, for example, if a suspect is not a Syrian national or is resident abroad. ‘It is also essential,’ Mr Timmermans noted, ‘that countries share intelligence on these individuals.’

Finally, the Minister said, we must invest in developing Syria’s justice system as soon as a political solution to the conflict is found. ‘Unfortunately this won’t happen in the immediate future,’ he said. ‘But in the meantime we can support and help train members of the moderate opposition, so that they can start working to restore the rule of law as soon as conditions allow. We can also train and assist civil society organisations.’

The Netherlands has been working for some time to facilitate prosecution of those suspected of committing crimes in Syria. Mr Timmermans has called for the International Criminal Court in The Hague to be allowed to investigate the situation in Syria, and he has urged that the UN’s Commission of Inquiry be given access to the war-ravaged country. The Netherlands has also donated €750,000 to the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre, one of the organisations documenting evidence of crimes and human rights violations.