Crisis Group Report Unwittingly Asks EU to Legitimise Assad Regime Torture Prisons Instead of Seeking Justice for its Victims



One of Caesar’s photos, the courageous military photographer, who defected from the Syrian regime and brought tens of thousands of images with him out of Syria exposing prisoners being tortured and starved to death in Assad’s prisons.



Does the report of the Crisis Group entitled “Ways out of Europe’s Syria Reconstruction Conundrum” fail to grasp some fundamental realities about the nature of the Syrian regime and its continuing brutal repression?  We are all quite familiar at this stage with the Caesar photographs, tens of thousands of images revealing the most unspeakable torture and abuse of prisoners reminiscent of the Nazi holocaust, and smuggled out of Syria by a very courageous military photographer.  Frankly I am haunted by these images meeting many Syrian at the moment who were tortured in the regime’s prisons while making a new documentary about justice and accountability for warcrimes and crimes against humanity called BRINGING ASSAD TO JUSTICE.  What really upset me about the Crisis Group report is how it never delineated the scale of the crimes committed by the regime or sought to examine thoroughly their implications for Syrians, and the future of their country without justice and accountability, as part of their analysis.

Advocating any kind of reconstruction aid in any form for a regime that the report’s authors actual acknowledge is abusing UN humanitarian aid does not make sense?  Worse still to suggest that such engagement would help ultimately to make the return of refugees possible, not only fails to properly take account of why Syrians fled in the first instance, but also does not even reference the unambiguous statements by the most feared of Assad’s security chiefs, the head of Syria’s Airforce Intelligence Jamal al-Hassan who made it explicitly clear they do not want them back.

 Against that background it was also especially depressing the way in which the report considered Law Number 10, which is not a law in the terms by which we understand such instruments as democratically agreed statutes. Rather it is a decree which a very corrupt regime gave itself the right to expropriate the property of refugees and displaced persons. Already such grand larceny of homes and properties has been used to enrich some of Assad’s cronies and no doubt his own coffers. However, the critical point is if the regime wanted to encourage refugees to return would it steal their homes? 

But as noted the clearest expression of that policy came from Assad’s  Air Force Intelligence chief Jamal al-Hassan who said that in addition to a staggering list of three million Syrians in his possession who should be be pursued for punishment he declared “A Syria with 10 million trustworthy people obedient to the leadership is better than a Syria with 30 million vandals.” He was chairing a meeting of 33 senior officers when he made these statements. Given that he oversees prisons and detention facilities in which tens of thousands have been subjected to torture and other inhumane abuses (as well as where many die under torture) he must be taken at his word? Worse still speaking of displaced people in Syria and returning refugees he said the corrupted “sheep” will be filtered out, charged with terrorism: “After eight years, Syria will not accept the presence of cancerous cells and they will be removed completely.”

What the EU should be doing is building on the progress achieved by Syrians representing civil society through the independent justice systems in Germany and France in securing international arrest warrants against Jamal al-Hassan and others responsible for crimes against humanity in Syria. Only the restoration of the rule of law, with all war criminals and those responsible for crimes against humanity brought to trial will the basis for a viable future and a political settlement that will allow all Syrians to determine their own future be possible.

Therefore, recommending reconstruction aid of any kind that by definition will only serve to help the Assad regime to survive and gain legitimacy is not credible. Even more alarming by not focusing on justice and accountability as a basis for a future settlement only increases the risk of fomenting radicalisation and the perpetuation of ISIS and similar groups. In other words, far from addressing the terrorist threat it would help to make Syrians and indeed those of us living in the EU and the US more insecure by not addressing and acknowledging one of the key sources of radicalisation. 

Finally, the commitment of the Syrian people to freedom and democracy is beyond doubt as the regular mass protests in Idlib against HTS by people who are equally opposed to the Assad dictatorship. The spirit of the peaceful uprising in 2011 still exists and instead of seeking unwittingly to protect and assist the Assad regime to survive the Crisis Group should be focused on the human security of all Syrians by helping to advance justice and accountability, and the realisation of a political settlement that would allow them to determine their own destiny.



RONAN L TYNAN is co-founder of Esperanza Productions and Director and Co-Producer of SYRIA – THE IMPOSSIBLE REVOLUTION the award winning international feature documentary.  He is also making with ANNE DALY a new documentary on Syria about justice and accountability for warcrimes and crimes against humanity called BRINGING ASSAD TO JUSTICE. 

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