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SJAC's Essential Summer Reading List
Lens Young Dimashqi - عدسة شاب دمشقي

SJAC's Essential Summer Reading List

Staff picks for understanding current issues in the Syrian conflict

How Facebook Failed in Syria

January 14, 2021

In October 2020, in the wake of the decapitation of the French high school teacher Samuel Paty, a Syrian user took to Facebook to praise the brutal murder. After SJAC staff reported the post, Facebook’s technology assessed whether it “goes against our Community Standards” and informed us that it did not. The post, and the violence it sought to incite, remains visible to this day.

New Documents Show Syrian Government Used Schools for Military Purposes

January 21, 2021

The devastation of the Syrian conflict on the country’s education system has been widely reported since the early days of the conflict. Schools have been targeted by military airstrikes, become impromptu shelters for displaced persons, and been used for military purposes by both government and opposition forces. Today, in recognition of the International Day of Education, SJAC is publishing a sample of Syrian government documents which captures the extent to which Syria’s educational system has been ravaged by conflict.

“We Are Not Like We Used to Be”: Syrian Responses to Documentation, Truth, and Reconciliation

June 10, 2021

The process of post-conflict reconciliation is understood to go hand-in-hand with truth-seeking and remembrance of human rights abuses, in the hope that they will not be repeated. In Syria, however, the process the government calls “reconciliation” is actually one of forgetting: returning refugees are required to fill out a form disavowing any past oppositional political participation in exchange for citizenship rights, while former opposition fighters are compelled to parade their loyalty to government forces. Concerted media disinformation campaigns have also distorted the factual record of the conflict and contributed to the polarized narratives that we see today. And, while the universal jurisdiction trials ongoing outside of Syria offer strategic and symbolic gains in shedding light on violations in Syria, they are no substitute for robust and inclusive truth mechanisms.

Greece and Denmark Outsource Human Rights: Back door returns of Syrian refugees

July 8, 2021

Since 2015, waves of displacement around the world have led thousands of refugees to Europe’s borders, putting a strain on its asylum system and creating a humanitarian crisis. Consequently, several European states have recycled proposals to offshore their responsibility to protect refugees under international and European law. This article examines the latest attempts by Greece and Denmark to externalize their asylum obligations by shifting responsibility onto third countries. These policies set a dangerous precedent for restricting refugees’ rights to fair asylum procedures and protection, and they should be rescinded.

The “Post-War” Tour: How Tourism is Empowering the Syrian Government

July 15, 2021

The Syrian government’s latest national budget paints a grim picture of the country’s finances. With mounting war debt and a 400% decrease in GDP, the government is facing a dire food crisis and may be unable to pay military wages by 2022. Bashar Al-Assad’s government is desperate to open new revenue streams that can bypass sanctions and build international goodwill. One possible lifeline comes from an unusual source – tourism.

Does Syria Need a UN Missing Persons Mechanism?

July 29, 2021

A coalition of Syrian organizations led by survivors and families of the missing in Syria released the new Truth and Justice Charter, laying out their vision for a just peace. The first demand in the document is “the immediate release of detainees, and revealing the fate of the forcibly disappeared.” The document goes on to request “neutral international actors” be able to access detention facilities so as to reveal the truth in collaboration with victims, survivors, and family members. However, it is not clear that the creation of a mechanism is the best way to create progress on this file.

A Toxic Legacy - Chemical Weapons and Birth Defects in Syria

December 2, 2021

In early 2021, a doctor in southern Turkey contacted SJAC to share his concerns about the high number of children born with birth defects that his medical center has treated since 2015. The doctor suspected that a recent increase in certain conditions may be linked to exposure to chemical weapons. Further research is urgently needed to investigate this phenomenon, and families supporting children with congenital defects need support to access specialized healthcare and educational resources.

France Is Not a Safe Haven for Human Rights Abusers – Despite High Court Opinion

Published by Just Security

December 9, 2021

A bombshell opinion from France’s highest court has raised doubts about the prospects for universal jurisdiction cases, in France and elsewhere, to hold accountable perpetrators of human rights abuses in States that do not respect international law. The French cour de cassation held that French prosecutors could not investigate or prosecute crimes against humanity under a long-standing French law because Syria had not criminalized crimes against humanity domestically.

March 31, 2022

A “crisis of passports” is threatening the legal status of Syrians abroad and restricting their freedom of movement. It has become increasingly difficult for Syrians to renew their passports, which prevents them from extending their residency as refugees, students, and workers or even leaving their country of residence at all.

Too Little Water, Too Much War: Wheat Shortages in Syria

April 14, 2022

Drought, the economic ramifications of a decade of war, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are a recipe for food insecurity in Syria. Syrians across the country face a worsening humanitarian crisis with 90% of Syrians now living below the poverty line, as currency depreciates and prices soar.

Chaos and False Hope after the General Amnesty Decree

May 11, 2022

The Syrian government announced a decree awarding amnesty to all those accused of committing acts of terrorism prior to 30 April 2022. This announcement was followed by the release of limited numbers of detainees, but also by chaos and false hopes for families wishing to be reunited with their loved ones.

Supporting Survivors Through Ethical Documentation

June 29, 2022

In recognition of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, SJAC is sharing some best practices for ensuring that survivors of torture, in Syria and around the globe, can participate in documentation efforts without putting their mental health at risk. When ethically conducted, documentation can be an empowering opportunity for survivors to participate in justice processes, but the principle of “do no harm” must be the standard practice guiding documentation efforts.


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