Supporting Syrian civil society actors in their struggle to claim and defend their rights
“I had to leave because there was an execution order against me,” said Jalal Al Hamad, a Syrian lawyer. Jalal was 25 in 2011 and the war in Syria was in its early stages.
The young man left government-controlled Damascus to reach Deir Ezzor, an area in north-eastern Syria that was an opposition stronghold at the time. When ISIL took control of the zone, he began to fear for his life. Forced to flee again, he arrived in Gaziantep, in neighbouring Turkey.
Nearly 10 years later, Jalal’s country has been ripped apart by a war that shows no sign of ending. Countless women, men and children have been killed or injured and millions have fled. Last year, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, noted, “During the early years of this murderous conflict, when the casualties were in the tens, then hundreds, then thousands, the world showed considerable concern about what was happening. Now, airstrikes kill and maim significant numbers of civilians several times a week and the response seems to be a collective shrug.”
While the war in Syria fades away from the spotlight, people like Jalal continue to work tirelessly to raise awareness about the ongoing severe human rights violations in the country.
Jalal is now the Director of Justice for Life, an organization established in 2015 with teams inside and outside Syria that monitor events and human rights violations in the Deir Ezzor region. As a result of interviews with victims and witnesses, the CSO documented hundreds of violations, including killings under torture, extrajudicial killings and disease and malnutrition as a consequence of besiegement.
Jalal’s desire to speak out against such atrocities stemmed from a need to provide a balanced voice. “I wanted to address these violations objectively and neutrally and to be the voice of victims.”
Justice for Life engages with the international human rights mechanisms to report its findings, including the Human Rights Council. The organization recently signed an MoU with the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Persons Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes Under International Law Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since 2011. UN Human Rights has interacted extensively with Jalal and his colleagues to monitor the human rights situation in north-east Syria and promote human rights-based approaches to their programming and advocacy efforts.
“We have become a hub for victims,” said Jalal. “Men, women and children are coming to us without fear. This building of trust in the community has been a major success factor, which we hope will help us achieve the ultimate goal: justice.”