The first Freedom Across Borders conference was held in London on 6 July 2019. Read more.
Please subscribe to our email list for updates.

Why do we need legal accountability? What can we do in the UK?

An edited transcript of a discussion in the Accountability strand of the Freedom Across Borders conference, London, 6 July 2019.

Participants: Aisha Dennis, Women Now for Development; Hanan Albarmawi, Families For Freedom; Ibrahim Olabi, Guernica 37, Syrian Legal Development Programme.

Facilitated by Kellie Strom. Transcript by Zoë Ranson. Interpretation by Bayan Abughaida.

Image: Families For Freedom in Geneva, February 2017.

Kellie Strom:
Thank you everyone for being here. I think we’ll start. For this first session, which is on why we need legal accountability, and what we can do in the UK. We have Hanan from Families For Freedom, we have Aisha from Women Now for Development, and we have Ibrahim, who we just heard speak downstairs, from the Syrian Legal Development Programme, and Guernica 37.

So, this first topic is called, why do we need legal accountability? What can we do here, in the UK? And it was Ibrahim who said to me, when we were developing this, that we need to put this question ‘why’ right at the start. And to many of us, the ‘why’ would seem obvious: with these crimes, these mass atrocities, there is a moral imperative that demands justice. But as Ibrahim pointed out to me, legal accountability is not the same as justice. Legal accountability can’t possibly deliver justice to balance the scale of these crimes. So, this brings up something that we’ll be looking at in the last session. When the moral imperative for legal accountability seems less certain, if it can’t deliver justice, then, there’s a temptation of a so-called realist argument, that maybe we can give up legal accountability for something more useful, more practical, realist, and, we may argue that we should give up legal accountability for peace or for stability—forget the crimes, let the dead bury the dead, for the sake of peace and stability.

For this, I came across—I’ve been reading Niccolò Machiavelli recently, who was writing in 16th century Italy. And he wrote as a political realist. He was a diplomat, who when the government he was working for fell became a political prisoner, he was a victim of torture. He understood power. And he wrote about why a state needs legal accountability. Not from a moral point of view, but because a state needs legal accountability for stability. If people in a state can’t get legal redress, they have to go outside of the law. If they can’t get legal redress, within the state, they will go to outside forces, they will go to foreign forces.

So we can see in Syria, the reason why everything has happened in Syria, the reason why there was a revolution, the reason why there was a war, the reason why outside forces are now occupying different parts of Syria, is because there was not legal accountability to begin with. So, to have stability in Syria, we need legal accountability.

We also need legal accountability here in the UK for our own stability. And as part of that need for legal accountability, we need that people in the UK who are victims of crimes in Syria, have some means of legal redress.

So, we’re going to begin with Hanan, from Families For Freedom, to say a little bit about the organisation, how it began, what it does.

Hanan Albarmawi:
Hello, I’m sorry that I’m going to be using Arabic, and that I’m going to be using the help of an interpreter, but I wanted my message to be clear, and more accurate. My name’s Hanan Albarmawi, I’m a Syrian refugee. I arrived to the UK five years ago. I’m currently with the Families For Freedom movement. I’m going to be talking—I have other activities—but I’m going to explicitly talking about this movement, today. So, this Families For Freedom movement, is based on Syrian women, women who have lost family members, husbands, fathers, any other family members, due to arbitrary detention and disappearance.

The idea was very important that it was based on just women, in this movement. It was very important that we as Syrian women have this message to deliver, as a role of the Syrian women in the Syrian revolution.

Second, that the person who has the right is stronger and more efficient in delivering their message. That’s why the Syrian woman is more capable of delivering her struggles, because of losing her family members due to enforced disappearance.

Families For Freedom movement started with five families, and reached eleven families. Currently, it has hundreds of voices from families from Syria. Our movement started in February 2017. We definitely have goals, aims, messages and demands, and we definitely have a message that we want to deliver to the UK people as women, most of living in the UK, and we can discuss later on our demands and calls.

Kellie Strom:
And Aisha now, from Women Now for Development, you’ve also done work in specific—you do a broad range of work, but you’ve done specifically work on detainees with Dawlaty. So could you tell us a little bit about Women Now, and also about some of the work you’ve done specifically on detention.

Aisha Dennis:
So, Women Now is an NGO that was set up in 2012 by Samar Yazbek, who is a Syrian journalist, who is living in exile in France. Women Now works inside Syria and in Lebanon. And basically in 2016, Women Now and another Syrian CSO called Dawlaty, started to conduct interviews with female relatives of the detained and the disappeared, to build a Syrian oral history archive. And so this kind of relates back to some of the conversation earlier about preserving memory, and resetting the narrative, so that was all part that effort. And today, we’ve interviewed over 200 women in different parts of Syria and also Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan.

At the time, there were no family groups campaigning for the disappeared. As women were talking about their experiences, and all their trauma and emotional pain was coming out, there was this energy as well, at the same time, and this feeling that women wanted to do something, about the issues that they were facing, and call attention to the situation. And by the way, through this process, we integrated psychosocial support into the interview process, that they were conducted by social workers.

So then we wanted to support women in setting up Families For Freedom. This is the campaign that they wanted to set up, so we supported that process. So Women Now, Dawalty, and The Syria Campaign formed a coalition to support the Families For Freedom campaign. And we do that through access to stakeholders, whether that’s the UN Human Rights Council, or the Commission of Inquiry, or the ICRC. And also on media appearances, we support that, and also through community mobilisation, so now there are local chapters of Families for Freedom in different countries, and in different communities. Women Now also provide a social support network, and have a particular interest in connecting Families For Freedom, with other women-led campaigns. So for example we organised a trip to Bosnia, so that women who are part of Families for Freedom could also meet Mothers of Srebrenica, campaigning for the disappeared as well.

More recently, Dawlaty and Women Now have published a report together called Shadows of the Disappeared, which contains fifty semi-structured interviews with women whose relatives are missing.

Kellie Strom:
So, Ibrahim, when you’re coming to this from a legal accountability angle, and material has been collected, which is to do with understanding the problem, reporting on the problem, on advocacy, and there’s also psychosocial, all of that. And you come into it with a legal accountability view, how does that fit in?

Ibrahim Olabi:
I think, in the context of Syria, and perhaps in many other contexts, we have over-promised when it comes to international justice and law. While I was in Gaizantep, or even in Syria, where the majority of the trainings happened, and a lot of our organisations rushed in to talk about traditional justice, and tribunals, and the Yugoslavian tribunals and the Rwanda tribunals and the International Criminal Court, and universal jurisdiction, everything seemed like, it sounds like this amazing system that exists to hold perpetrators to account. Unfortunately, they left the bit out that says, law does not operate in a vacuum, especially international law. There is a political context to it.

And so the difficulty that we had when we came in with the kind of legal style of things, I would say the most difficult was managing expectations. Because if they would go through this process of giving you a witness statement, going into the amount of depth and detail, horrifying detail, that they would need to go to, to kind of satisfy the evidential threshold of any sort of prosecution, they’d expect something to come out of it. I’ve collected many witness statements, where myself and the witness, both broke down into tears. And towards the end, she would tell me, so, what’s going to happen now? And I don’t have an answer for that. I can tell you what I will be able to do. I will be able to tell you how far I can push, but, because law operates in a political sphere, here in the UK there is a public interest argument that needs to be met in order for a prosecution to go forward. There needs to be approval from the Director of Public Prosecutions. I can not control that narrative. I cannot guarantee for certain what would happen.

And so you have two types of people. First, people who have given up, ‘what’s the point of this,’ you know, ‘no-one’s going to hold them to account, the world is complicit, if they wanted to take them down, they would have,’ all sorts of that kind of approach, and so ‘no I will not meet with you, no, I will not discuss anything with you, there’s absolutely no point, all of you are there’—in a worst case scenario—‘to make money on our behalf, you’re all paid legal fees, and you’re funded by these fancy governments and charities,’ and whatnot. Or that ‘you’re kind of cute for trying, but nothing’s going to come out of it.’

So, you’ve got that on one side. And then you’ve got the other side, who have huge expectations for the legal process. And actually, I would know, because I was delivering a training to Families for Freedom and a lot of victim groups and survivor groups, and I tried to make criminal accountability, criminal litigation to really narrow the scope, as one tool of something that could be done. Because I think a lot of lawyers, myself included, would fall into the trap of saying it’s all about the law, and the court room, and the wigs and gowns, and you know, I do enjoy wearing my wig and gown, I’m not going to lie, but not in this context.

Because, I think, when I was being taught criminology at university, even criminology, the social science of it, has not advanced to deal with the kind of crimes that we’re talking about now. As, one quote goes, and I’m not going to attribute it to someone, because everyone has taken credit for it, you kill a person, you murder a person, you might end up with the death penalty, or life imprisonment, but you kill 400,000, and you’re invited to a peace conference in Geneva. So, how should you deal with the criminality of this? Even from a social science point of view, I don’t think we’re there yet. I think we are working towards it.

So, my point would be that yes, legal accountability is important, because it’s a strategic tool, that would help us achieve certain things. Get something on record, get something from a judge from a respectable country. Just to give you an example, in Germany, when the arrest warrants started coming up against generals of the Assad regime, at the same time the World Cup was taking place, and a lot of Assad war crime apologists are fans of Germany in football. And when Germany started doing these arrest warrants, they could not say anything, because Germany does not have a colonial past, they couldn’t say, look at Iraq, Afghanistan, which is all the kind of nonsense they use in our case, and so it’s helped us to say well, look, it’s not imperialist Britain that’s issuing a case, it’s Germany, the football team that you’re supporting, in that sense.

So it has some strategic added value, that we could use that court, but, by no means should it be the only one. And I think as NGOs, as human rights activists, we have the duty to make sure that when we’re talking about litigation, criminal litigation, to add the word strategic to that, and not just approach it from a very narrow point of view.

Kellie Strom:
Thank you. Thank you Bayan, for your translation. Hanan, I think that then brings us back to you, for Families for Freedom, what your calls are, what your demands are, your aims. How does accountability fit into that, and how do you go beyond that, what do you look for other than accountability?

Hanan Albarmawi:
Definitely, as a movement we have our demands, and our main message. So, our main message is to keep this file of the forcibly disappeared and detained in Syria in the discussions, all international discussions, and it is very important not to leave it behind in any of these discussions.

So, it is clear, that each one of us would see it in their own point of view, which is a normal thing, for any one of us. So, for example Ibrahim, might see it in the legal point of view, if we want to talk about the enforced disappeared, or detainees. As a person in the psychology field, I focus on the psychology part of it. Specifically, as working in Syrian relief inside Syria for three years, I personally saw this, with my direct contact with the families, women and children who have lost someone. So our aim is not just to end the war, our aim is to have a healthy Syria, an inclusive, comprehensive community in Syria. And because of me noticing this effect on people who have lost someone who are forcibly disappeared or detained, I’ve seen this effect on the community, starting from the individual, to the family, to the community.

One of the personal situations as an example, there was a doctor who was a close friend of mine. I used to depend on him in following medical cases in the centre I used to work at. He was arrested at his clinic in Damascus four years ago. He has children, a girl and a boy. Until now, his fate is unknown, and until now, it is the most difficult thing to look at the eyes of his children not knowing what to do.

So, this demand for accountability, for accountability for Syrian detainees is not just legal, it is humanitarian, it is psychological, it’s social, it’s moral. It’s in all these important levels. One of our goals is to have as Syrians the right to know the fate of our family members. It is the most basic right, that you need to know where your family members are. Okay, we understand he’s detained. Yes, okay, but where is he detained? And why are they detained?

The most basic right for them is to have a fair trial. The most basic right is to have access to medication and food. We have the right for the humanitarian organisations to be able to go into these prisons, or places of detention, for legal monitoringin the prisons and detentions, to monitor so that they would decrease that level of torture that the prisoners and detainees are suffering from. So we are calling for the disclosure of the fate of all the detainees from all parties, without differentiation between them, without exceptions, it is a right of every Syrian.

We are calling for the expanding of judicial authority. Ibrahim has mentioned an example in what happened in Germany. This is a very important factor. So, the accountability in my point of view and in the point of view of the movement is a very important element. And we can say it’s a pillar. It’s a very important base to be able to go back and build a healthy Syria, a democratic, healthy Syria.

Kellie Strom:
Thank you very much. Aisha, we’ve been focusing on detentions, forced disappearances and with that, torture. But it’s part of a larger picture of, basically, organised crime. I wonder could you sketch in for us a bit of that larger context, and the reasons for it, the impact of it?

Aisha Dennis:
So, we’re talking about indiscriminate bombing campaigns, targeting civilian populations, attacks on civilian objects, whether it’s hospitals, or schools many other residential areas. Chemical attacks, siege and starvation, dispossession, and systematic sexual and gender-based violence. And all of these things tie together to form a strategy of forced displacement and demographic engineering.

So, if we look at the targeting of civilians and the impact that that has on civilian movement within the country, for example, last year in Idlib, in the first six months of last year 100,000 people moved into Idlib, and this is a governorate that already had 900,000 IDPs, mostly living in IDP camps, with very limited access to humanitarian aid. And then later on in September, there was the expectation that there would be a large scale assault in the same way that we saw in Ghouta earlier in that year. And just with the expectation that that would happen, there were 33,000 people that were internally displaced within three weeks. And a huge, huge humanitarian need at the same time.

This also has impacts on women. There is a rise in the number of women who are the heads of their households, they’re more vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence. We are talking about one in three schools that are fully operational, and half of the hospitals having been destroyed. We had a colleague who died a couple of weeks ago because she gave birth at home. There are women giving birth through c-section without anaesthetic.

We are talking about multiple chemical attacks, with hundreds of casualties. We’re talking about a policy of siege that was implemented in multiple governorates in the country until very recently and that led to starvation amongst the civilian population. So, a lack of medicine and food being allowed into areas, for example Eastern Ghouta. People were living under siege for over four years, and trying to eat bread made out of sawdust. One of my colleagues, country manager for Syria, Loubna, when she was living in Ghouta, she now lives in Turkey as a refugee there, but she ran a local campaign to try to make sure that women had sanitary pads, things that are so taken for granted and clearly cannot be used for any military use, were just not available.

Kellie Strom:
So, to be clear, they were being deliberately blocked?

Aisha Dennis:
Yes. And the whole economy in the area was completely distorted. Unemployment in some besieged areas reached 100%. And then for example, if we’re still talking about Eastern Ghouta, when it was bombarded—throughout that four years, it was suffering bombardment and artillery fire—but when there was a very, very extreme level of sustained attack in February to April last year, then we saw huge, huge numbers of people being displaced with nowhere really to go. Most people went to Idlib and some to other areas, areas that were already overwhelmed with IDPs, as I already gave Idlib as an example, where there were already 900,000 IDPs living there already.

Then we’re talking about the systematic use of sexual violence, whether that was in detention, or at checkpoints, or during ground offences. Both of women and girls, and of men and boys. This also leading to huge stigma within their community, people being rejected from their families, and the psychological toll that that takes, as well. And different forms of sexual violence, as well, so rape, use of electrocution on genitalia, searches that are basically sexual assaults, very severe sexual assaults. People being humiliated, by being forced to walk in front of tanks naked, for hours in some cases.

And then also sexual violence by armed groups, including marriage and enforced marriage, within communities that are suffering high levels of poverty, so that there’s an incentive, and people are trying to survive so there’s an incentive to marry off their daughters in that situation. So that’s it. Obviously, there’s a lot more to it.

Kellie Strom:
So Ibrahim, it’s a very full load. And you were talking about how in what you do, the word ‘strategic’ has to be at the centre of all of that, because you have something that is so overwhelming. You’re running one small organisation, trying to tackle this, for the last few years, and now you’re working in one chambers, but it’s an epic task, and it’s hard to even comprehend it, never mind get to the point of saying where do you begin, what are your priorities with your limited capacities?

Ibrahim Olabi:
So, I want to begin with a quote from the infamous Minister of Foreign Affairs of Syria, in 2011 or 2012, when he said, when the observers from the Arab League were coming to look at what was happening in Syria, he said, ‘We will drown them, with the details.’ I think we’ve moved to an interesting era, Kellie. An era, where the perpetrators are no longer hiding their crimes, but over-burdening the system. Commit all sorts of crimes, against a wide variety of people, tick every single crime possible, overload the internet, so that people become confused, don’t know what to do, and then they can get away with it. Ironically, at a time where we have more access of information. So, instead of trying to hide the information, they’re overflowing the system. Which is a phenomenon that I think we need to be able to grasp and deal with.

Now, there are a few thoughts that I would like to make on that point. I mean, growing up, I always hated the question of which comes first, the chicken or the egg. And by analogy, I have a similar question now: who comes first, the lawyer or the politician? And in my opinion, from what I’ve seen, the politician makes the decisions, and then tries to get the lawyer to justify it, or work within the remits of the law. Then you have lawyers resigning, that happened with the war in Iraq, you had Elizabeth Wilmshurst, deputy chief legal adviser at the Foreign Office said, no, this is illegal.
And so I really think our work needs to be with the policy makers, because laws change, laws evolve, according to the will of the society, the community, people who are lobbying for change. And, ironically, yes, you know automation is taking a lot of jobs away, but politicians are still people. There is no computer that you are dealing with on Syria, luckily, yet. Which means people can be lobbied. People can be pushed. They have weak points, they have strong points, they have interests. And that’s why I’m really excited to be amongst this group today, because this is where we can push to trigger that interest, and not let them off the hook.

And, it’s interesting that again we’re living in an era, where some terms are being put forward, some concepts, that are also undermining our ability to do any sort of accountability work, or certainly any sort of legal accountability work. Such as neutrality. All parties to the conflict have committed crimes. Wrong. Yes, all parties have committed crimes, but at a completely different scale of range of crimes, diversity of crimes, severity of crimes. That does not mean for a second that I would condone the crime of any party, but you ask me about a question of strategy and scant resources, and instead of saying, oh no, it’s too complicated now, I need to be able to allocate my energy towards a party, a perpetrator, that ticks the majority of my policy considerations when I’m choosing this case. Do they have the highest responsibility? Was this organised? Is it systematic? Does it serve the victims? Am I able to get more evidence out of it? There are a lot of things that we take into account before choosing a case, or choosing a topic. But, then you get an attack of, why are you focusing just on Assad?

No-one would condone any crimes, as Hanan said, we’re talking about enforced disappearances by all parties. But again, I have a limited amount of hours a day. I have limited sources of funding. And we cannot go after everybody. So, who do we go after? And whatever your answer is to that question, as long as it’s justified, and you have a proper rationale for it, I don’t mind. But, what I do mind is taking a step back and saying, you know, ‘all parties, too complex, not going to touch this, too complicated.’

I always say, I do not mind in Syria, for anyone in this room, or anywhere else, to say, I do not know who to support. I myself do not know who to support, politically. But, I know who to oppose from a human rights perspective.

I do not know the ins and outs of Sudan. But I care about those who were killed on the sit in. I do not know the tribal dynamics. I do not know whether it’s as they say, communist, socialist, Islamist, I do not know. But my measurement is a human rights standard. So, if we’re muddying the waters and making things so blurry—because what has happened now is if you’re opposing the crimes committed by one party, automatically people are seeing you as supporting the other. Myth. Untrue. A lie that they’ve put together in order for us to constantly be on the defence and say, no, I do not support that, I do not support that, I don’t do that.

The other problem is the issue of the narrative of the conflict. Because the narrative of the conflict makes it very difficult to trigger any sort of public interest argument that allows us to push thepolicy makers. We see the envoy of the UN, and the majority of the states talking about the solution for Syria as a constitutional committee, as if four hundred thousand people have died, and the horrendous crimes that you’ve heard from Hanan, and from Aisha, here today, happened because I happened to disagree about Article 52 of the constitution. Syria is not a political problem. Brexit is a political problem. This is not a matter between Conservatives and Labour, Republican and Democrats. That’s not why people are being tortured. We’re talking about pure human rights. If the narrative is being distorted, we will not be able to move one step forward, towards any sort of accountability, legal, or otherwise.

Kellie Strom:
I was watching my clock, because I’m aware that we haven’t had other people in. So, I want to see if anyone wants to come in with any questions, or comments? Jonathan.

Jonathan Brown:
Jonathan Brown. I chair the Liberal Democrats for Free Syria. I used to live in Syria between 2004-2007. So, I lobby for policy changes within the party. Probably the most common barrier to getting support amongst the general public, or political activists in this country, is the feeling that it’s just so awful that the best thing is for it to be over,as quickly as possible, no matter how that happens. So, you often hear people saying, we just want the war to be over, it’s better for people to live under oppression than for war to continue. That doesn’t appear to be an option for Syrians, even if they wanted to take it, but you must obviously get that question too. What’s your response to that?

Kellie Strom:
Aisha, this is probably also a question you’ve heard before.

Aisha Dennis:
Okay, so we’re talking about whether it’s best to try to stop things happening immediately. I think the thing is that if the violence in terms of bombing stops, that doesn’t mean that the violence has stopped. People are still disappeared, they’re still detained, we don’t know if they’re dead, we don’t know if they’re alive, we don’t know if they’re being tortured.

The economic situation has been completely turned upside down, and that isn’t solved by pumping money into regime controlled areas, that have always been supportive of the regime, for reconstruction. It’s a matter of how that happened. You have to look into the details of what we’re talking about. The question is erroneous, that would be my feeling.

Hi there, my name’s Tony I’m a lawyer as well. And what I haven’t got a sense of from anybody in this room is what is the roadmap from your perspective? It’s a long journey that everybody’s taking, but are you promoting any particular process?

Kellie Strom:
Ibrahim, did you want to answer?

Ibrahim Olabi:
Yes, can I tackle the first one very, very briefly. I don’t mind any war to be quickly over, but we’re not talking again about a war where two parties are fighting, citizens are collateral damage, and that’s it. I share an office with a Libyan organisation, you can imagine the depressing working environment that we have. But for them, the battle for Tripoli is a political issue where there’s two parties fighting. Up until recently, up until a few days ago, there weren’t so many war crimes that were committed, and people over there were saying, we want this to be over as quick as we can. We need to distinguish that from a war where there is deliberate torture and enforced disappearance. These are completely two different types of wars that would need to end differently.

And, as Aisha rightly said, even when war is over—because people link that to return of refugees, right? Look at Jordan. Daraa, in the south of Syria, that has been taken by the Syrian army, and refugees are not returning. Lebanon, people are not returning. The World Bank finally published something saying it is not money and bombs, that were the trigger for people to leave, and it will not be the trigger for people to come back. It’s torture, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance. The things that Hanan was talking about. So, that sense of security beyond the bombs, which I concur with Aisha on.

In terms of the roadmap. Well, the problem is that the roadmap for Syria involves so many states now, that not one state has the answer. It’s no longer a Syrian problem. As much as I would like to think it’s all about us, it really isn’t. I always tell that to UK policy makers. When Russia breaches international law in Syria, that is not a message to Syria, that is a message to the UK: ‘You can stand up with as many Geneva conventions as you want, and ratify whatever Rome statutes you want, and I can break it, and I can get away with it, so who’s the world power now?’

So, that kind of roadmap is so complicated, because it has a lot of state interests. But, on the other hand, that also means that if we manage to lobby and galvanize the states that are with us, then we might be able to get somewhere.

So, I think the most complicated in the roadmap is the issue of the detentions and the enforced disappearances. So, I think that is the first thing that needs to be settled. Because they’ve been suffering the most, since 2011. Their families have been suffering the most. We don’t know where they are, we don’t know what’s happening to them, and that’s the file that the regime has not moved an inch—for many reasons, which we can go into later.

Then, you have the issue of stopping the bombs. And I actually put the detainees before stopping the bombs, because I think it causes far more damage. And then you can look into issues of a kind of reform and get into the political side of things: security sector reform, and justice approaches, and all of that. Constitution, elections, the rest of it. But, again, it’s no longer a Syrian issue. It’s a Russia, US, UK, Saudi, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan issue. Israel to add to the mix.

Kellie Strom:
Could I just jump back to something we had earlier. Hanan was talking abut the arrest warrants that have been issued in Germany, and also in France. Could you just give us a little idea, of why that’s happening in Germany, why it’s happening in France, why, when we’ve heard there are also victims in the UK, why haven’t we yet seen something like that happen in the UK, or, is there a possibility of it?

Ibrahim Olabi:
Well, I could give you the legal answer, but I’d much rather give you the political answer. There is no political will in the UK. The UK has been busy for a long time with other matters. Germany has a much higher refugee population. They want to show that they’re doing something for Syrians, you know. It’s also an anti-extremism tool, in a sense. ‘Look, our country is doing something for you, so don’t take matters into your own hands.’ Which the UK tried to do. I used to YouTube things related to Syria, the first sponsored video, that appears on my YouTube list is about what is the UK doing for Syria, and has the special envoy saying we’re doing this, we’re doing that, and all of this.

There are different legal challenges in the UK. And again, it also matters that the legal sector has huge funding cuts at the moment, the courts are a mess, there are huge challenges, so how do we justify looking into a conflict that doesn’t affect us? Or, so they think. So, our role is to show how the Syrian conflict does indeed affect the UK. This is the first step that we need to do. I think there have been excellent organisations in Germany and France that have been pushing with this. And to get an arrest warrant at that level requires approval from the highest authority in the country—the Chancellor of Germany—I’ve checked about that fact personally. While in the UK, we don’t even know what’s going to happen in the next couple of days, or who can take that decision, and it’s politically sensitive as well.

Hanan Albarmawi:
So, my answer to your question about the roadmap, or the return of the Syrians, to Syria, is it is a very complicated, or thorny way. So, what we know, is that the Syrian situation is very different or any other situation in the world. What is happening in Syria, is totally different from any other country.

So, our work, it’s very important, that we need to stress on this point, that our work as Syrians is a comprehensive work, whether the refugees, the IDPs inside Syria, We have comprehensive work that includes legal, humanitarian, social etc. So, it’s very important to stress that it’s about me, you, and them and he, or she. We are, as individuals, we are the base of this. As long as we are existing, we are continuing with this work. As long as we are continuing and able to do things.

In this context, with the ending of the war, it is very important to know the fate of the detainees, about disclosing their fate, about us Syrians remaining healthy human beings, mentally healthy, able to rebuild Syria, because we are the only ones who can rebuild Syria.

So, I personally have lost my nephew, my sister’s son, who was forcibly disappeared. He didn’t reach eighteen years old and because of that, his mother is suffering from, until now, from a severe mental health issue, and despite that, I’m here with you, talking. And our will we not be affected. We are continuing. All we want from you, is that our voice is delivered, with your help, to the world. That’s how our path will be clearer. Thank you.

My name is Baraa, I am a mental health caseworker on the Syrian resettlement scheme in Walsall in West Midlands. I’ve got families who have family members who have been detained or disappeared. What kind of support are you able to give them? How can we inform them of your movement? How can they contact you, because most of them are women, who lost their sons or their husbands, and suddenly they find themselves here in the UK where yes, the government sometimes provide everything in a material way, but sometimes the women have a special need for people with the same background. How can they get involved in your movement? Because I’m sure also with their passions, and their ideas, they can give something to help others. And what kind of support are you giving to them, emotional support. How to do that within the Syrian community, because London is different to West Midlands, and a big part of the Syrians are now in the West Midlands.

Hanan Albarmawi:
So, as a start. As long as a person feels that they can start expressing their pain, and talking about it, that’s a first step. As a start, to be able to move from this stage, of not being able to express, not being able to call for your right, not being able to grieve, even. Because any person there, if they lost someone, they were not able to bury them, or have a gathering to give condolences. It’s just one person who can go and bury them, if that’s possible. So if they can, they are right in expressing their grief, and they move to this stage where they can deal with people who would be able to deliver their voices, that’s a first step. That’s a very important step.

This is one of the things I’ve been talking about most of the time.

Hanan Albarmawi:
We as a movement, Families for Freedom, we’re really focused on working with families who have lost someone in their families. We organise activities. We’ve organised recently activities for people who wanted to talk to an MP, or to the Red Cross, to talk about their experience about losing, or the disappearance of one of their family members, and we’re still ongoing working on that. The thing is that, if you manage to deliver their voices, that was something that was not allowed to them in the past, it is a very important step.

Kellie Strom:
Sorry, I’m just aware that the next panel, we are crashing into their time, so I hope you will continue the conversation. Our next panel is going to be on accountability challenges for humanitarian aid. So thank you very much, all of you, for doing this.