Much of the work of the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre is founded on the critical role of documentation in supporting transitional justice. But where does this information come from, and who does the documenting? This week, we shed some light on this work by interviewing Musab AlShabib, a Syrian conducting documentation work with the Violations Documentation Center in Syria (VDC), whose work on documentation complements that of the SJAC. The VDC collects and organizes statistics relating to incidents of arrests, forced disappearances, and number of regime fighters killed in the conflict. With its data, the VDC issues weekly reports drafted by activists from across Syria. [This interview has been translated from Arabic and lightly edited by the SJAC. The publishing of this interview by the SJAC is not an endorsement of the views expressed herein.]
SJAC: Tell us about your work. What kind of events do you document? How do you document them?
Musab AlShabib: I am a member of the Center in the province of Idlib, where I track daily numbers for martyrs in the province and create checklists for each region for the names of martyrs and [individuals who are] arrested. I also work on [drafting] reports about violations and massacres by non-governmental actors. I do this work with the help of a number of activists spread across the regions of Idlib. So, in my work I depend on the [local] coordination groups and local councils that have begun to deal with the topic of documentation in a serious manner. I also work to document in areas outside of the control of the regime.
Q: When did you start documenting? Why did you start?
A: I started doing documentation in July 2012 […] and in the beginning it was lists of the numbers of martyrs in the regions that I was able to reach. What pushed me to work was the significant increase in the numbers of martyrs in the province of Idlib, and [the fact that with] the entry of the army into most of the areas there was a high incidence of cases of people abducted, arrested, and martyred. So we started the recording and documentation efforts to preserve the rights of these persecuted.
Q: What are the greatest obstacles you face in the documentation process in Syria?
A: The widespread checkpoints that cut off the cities from the rural areas and the conditions of bombardment and clashes that don’t end [are two major obstacles]. Also, for me, the state of fear that prevails among the people in general about documenting what happened to them [makes documentation more difficult]. [Another obstacles is] the absence of [documentation] standards that the activists [can] depend upon.
Q: Since you started documenting, has the work changed? Has it become easier or more difficult?
A: Yes, definitely, the work has changed since I started. Before, we were just preparing statistics and crosschecking data, whereas now we are also developing reports and violations from all parties and have expanded our work to include victims of crimes by non-governmental actors. And the work has become more difficult because there are work standards you have to take into account. Additionally, there has been a change in the situation on the ground caused by the distribution of spheres of influence. Also, [there is a change of the situation based on] the heightened intensity of bombardment and clashes, and [therefore] the difficulty and danger of navigating is greater.
Q: Are there any kinds of documentation that you would like to get more of, or that you see as especially important?
A: Yes, I want to get documentation of torture [that may be occurring] inside detention centers. This is a very important topic, as these are among the most severe violations happening. Additionally, [I would like to get more accurate information on] the massacres that happen daily and that take the lives of mostly innocent civilians. I work very hard on the documentation of massacres to benefit the future of the victim’s children.
Q: Have you shared your documentation with any media agencies? How did you work with the media?
A: Yes, there are a number of reports given to news agencies for them to broadcast, either as single reports or to include in [broader] news reports. This includes news agencies broadcasting reports in the name of the VDC and shedding light upon the issues that the Center works on. Furthermore, the statistics from our work contribute to the statistics that the media is reporting on the conflict.
Q: How do you hope that your documents will be used in the future?
A: I hope that these documents can be used to prosecute the perpetrators and criminals that caused all these tragedies. Also, [I hope it is used] in efforts to compensate the affected families and relatives, and in reparation efforts for them. And I hope that these documents are used to commemorate those victims that died in this conflict.
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