1- Working in documentation has its fair share of risks, seeing that it requires a high level of impartiality, what are that most notable risks SNHR encounters inside Syria in the course of its work?
Challenges and risks vary with each kind of violations. The challenges you find in the course of recording enforced-disappearance cases are different from sexual violence cases, or cases of airstrikes and so on… Generally, these challenges stem from the fact that SNHR committed itself to record a large scope of violations, such as killing, enforced-disappearance, arbitrary arrest, destruction, indiscriminate shelling, and torture among others. On the other hand, there are several violation perpetrators. At the start of the uprising for freedom, the Syrian regime and its militias were the sole party committing violations, and are still the main and major party with regard to committing violations, but more and more parties entered the scene gradually, such as extremist groups, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party forces, armed opposition factions, international coalition forces, and Russian forces. Distinguishing the violation perpetrator is an important and vital aspect in the documentation process. Lastly, there are of course the usual challenges that have been present since the start of the popular uprising: the concern for security, which obstructs access to the crime site. In light of this extraordinary scale and scope of violations in Syria, we had to hire nearly 850 employees – something that our logistic and financial resources can’t withstand, in addition to severe of communication, power outages, lack of internet access, not to mention that criticizing and documenting violations by all parties make you resented, and maybe make you a target, in the eyes of many of those parties. Finally, victims are afraid of giving their accounts, are afraid for their lives, and afraid of the society itself sometimes.
However, losing hope in the meaningfulness of accountability and justice is a whole another concern, because this feeling mean that the people won’t cooperate with us, and they are our most important bet. The international community has failed to hold the main criminals in Syria accountable for seven years for committing crimes against humanity and war crimes. Consequently, the people feel unmotivated to talk about the crimes that were committed against them.
2- What are the most notable challenges you face in documenting enforced-disappearances, in light of the fact that the responsible groups are unknown in the overwhelming majority of the cases?
– Usually, families don’t have enough information about the circumstances of the victim’s disappearance. Most of the time, the victim’s identifications are lost along with them, such as their I.D. And in many cases, the families fear contacting us out of fear of the victim being subjected to torture in case their family document them as a forcibly-disappeared person.
– There are cases where none of the victim’s family members and friends know who made the arrest. When you contact security branches, they all deny having the detainee.
– Difficulties to access the forcibly-disappeared person’s family, and in case this was achieved, some families might refuse to contribute to the documentation out of fear and because of the pointlessness of it. In such cases, families turn to mafia networks that were created on account of this phenomenon.
3- What are the most notable challenges you face in documenting cases of rape of woman?
– In general, documenting incidents of sexual violence is one of the most complex and difficult kinds of documentation for its social and psychological ramifications with respect to the victim and their society. Usually, the victim refuses to talk about the violation they suffered, fearing stigmatization and disreputation, or even killing in case they revealed what happened. Finally, talking about what happened might cause indescribable agony when remembering this horrible situation.
– To achieve a high level of verification, medical tests have to be conducted – something that is almost non-existent in the Syrian case. First of all, the woman that was raped has to receive some sort of psychological support to overcome its distress somewhat, so she is able to come forward, talk, and take medical tests. However, psychiatric therapy is almost non-existent, and the woman would be afraid to reveal what happened in the first place, so she can’t receive such support in the first place.
– The same thing almost fully applies to males as well.