How can a country look to the future after a serious and violent conflict?
Above all, it is important to bring the truth to light. When a country emerges from severe conflict situation, where abuses have been carried out – and often as a means to achieve political goals – truth matters. This particularly applies to survivors, victims and for their loved ones. But it is also sends a strong message to those who thought they could get away with atrocities. It is part of a healing process, enabling a country to move on and people to keep trusting in governments and laws. It means they can become countries where the rules are powerful and it's not just the powerful ones who apply their own rules. I have met many survivors during my life. I have seen that it is never easy, but it is significantly easier if a state or an institution is taking their plight seriously and if their stories are being heard and recognized. One of these institutions is the International Criminal Court. It does send an important message to perpetrators worldwide.
Has increasing globalisation facilitated international cooperation?
On the contrary: Of late we are seeing a profound challenge to this multilateral framework. Around the world, nationalism is on the rise. International rules are being seen as a sort of a pick and choose: If it’s convenient for your policies you pick them, but if it’s outside your national interest, rules don’t matter. But even in this incredibly different environment, we have managed to set up new mechanisms. For example, when it was impossible to get through a referral for the situation in Syria to the ICC in the UN security council because Russia was vetoing. Against that backdrop, states from around the world came together and established the “International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism”, by a resolution in the UN General Assembly, which, in effect, helps with or without a mandate to gather and analyse evidence in Syria. It has definitely proven the most powerful mechanism for justice for the future.
What does this sort of criminal process mean to the victims?
If survivors of terrible abuse have the courage and the humanity not to resort to seek revenge but justice, we should all commit ourselves to helping them fulfil their desire for accountability as far as possible. The journey to justice can be painful. But when the German federal prosecutor issued the first international arrest warrant for a very high-ranking member of Assad’s regime, Jamil Al-Hassan, for crimes against humanity including torture and killings of people in detention – that really gave hope to Syrian victims and survivors.
Did one particular fate from Syria particularly impress you?
That of Maryam, she is an incredibly impressive woman and was among the people who form part of the prosecutor's case, both as a witness and a victim. She lost her son, Aiham, to torture in Assad's prison. He was a promising young dentist student and had been on demonstrations in Syria and had disappeared. Maryam immediately started looking for him and went knocking on doors around Damascus. She finally reached a place where they gave out death certificates, which were handed out with extreme arrogance, like coupons. She got one for Aiham. She started looking around the room and there was a young woman who got five pieces of paper. Maryam tried to console her when she collapsed of grief. She told me this was the moment when she decided to dedicate her life to the fight for justice. I was at awe at Maryam's strength. And that is the kind of humanity that we should be part of celebrating, this is also part of the face of Syria and hopefully the nation's future too.
an interview by Friederike Biron