Netherlands supports UN evidence database on atrocities in Syria

The Netherlands will contribute money and expertise to the database being set up by the United Nations to gather evidence of atrocities committed in Syria. ‘This evidence database will send a clear message that the horrific crimes that have been committed will not be forgotten,’ said Dutch foreign minister Bert Koenders. ‘The perpetrators must not be allowed to escape punishment. These atrocities should have been prevented in the first place, but now justice is essential.’

The minister is delighted that the UN General Assembly voted on Wednesday evening to establish the database. The Netherlands was one of the parties pushing for adoption of the resolution, which will facilitate the investigation and prosecution of perpetrators of human rights violations in Syria.

The database will document crimes committed by the Assad regime, ISIS and all other parties to the conflict. A great deal of evidence is already available, but it is fragmented and not held in any central repository. Staff working on the database will assess whether the evidence supplied is suitable for use in court.

The Office of the UN Higher Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) will get the project up and running. The Netherlands is making one million euros available, as well as expertise. In early 2017 the Netherlands will organise an expert meeting in The Hague to help the UN and other international partners design the database.

Almost half a million men, women and children have been killed since the conflict in Syria began in 2011. ‘The horrific news from  Aleppo shows how important it is to gather evidence properly, enable justice to be done for the victims, ensure the perpetrators can be punished effectively and deter future violations,’ said Mr Koenders. Multiple war crimes have been committed in the course of the Syrian conflict: aid convoys have been attacked, hospitals deliberately bombed and children tortured.

For the time being Russia’s veto in the UN Security Council makes it impossible for the International Criminal Court to investigate the crimes committed in Syria. ‘The task now is to record accurately what has happened in order to avoid impunity for these crimes,’ Mr Koenders said. ‘In Cambodia it took 30 years before the perpetrators could be prosecuted. Hopefully it won’t take that long in Syria. But justice will ultimately be done.’