The ongoing civil war in Syria has destroyed countless lives, families, and communities, and perpetrators have shown a disturbing disregard for international human rights and international humanitarian law. The brutal violence inflicted on the Syrian people has destroyed countless lives, families, and communities.
A disproportionate number of victims are innocent civilians, including far too many young girls and boys. One striking trend is the destruction of schools across the country. To date, estimates say that nearly one in three schools across Syria have been damaged, destroyed, or been repurposed. 2.3 million Syrian children are out of school and over a million more are at risk of dropping out.
Surrounded by the direst humanitarian needs and devastation, Syrian activists continue to find strength to relentlessly document on the ground the suffering of victims, the crimes committed and their tragic impacts and consequences in the civilian population. Despite the scarcity of means they work with, often risking their lives, they are the ones responsible for having created an immense archive of information that will give testimony of what many people call the most documented conflict in history.
Whether it be gathering quantitative or qualitative data, the recording of personal stories, the documentation of missing people or property rights; or sharing personal videos and images of violent acts through social media, the smallest detail recorded could potentially help individuals and communities in their long journey towards recovery and justice.
Civil society groups’ primary motivation for proper documentation of the wrongdoings committed against civilians, especially in the early stages of the conflict, has been to create evidence for potential future criminal prosecution trials. However, not all methodologies implemented on the ground are always adequate to collect and keep forensic evidence that can meet the high standards that trials require.
Due to the uncertainty of the war’s outcome and how and when such trials would be able to take place, sentiments of frustration and doubt to the usefulness of such documentation can be present among many Syrian civil society organizations. But, as we argue in a recent paper organizations and victims should not lose hope because there are many benefits that can come from innovative documentation strategies beyond criminal prosecution. The Save Syrian Schools project is a proof of it.
While we cannot ensure an end to the conflict, we can bring the voices of Syrians to as many people as possible to increase support for the victims, and build meaningful and justice-oriented solutions for the harms they have experienced.
To that end, in an unprecedented collaboration, ICTJ and ten Syrian organizations with diverse mandates related to transitional justice, documentation, and support for victims have come together to create the Save Syrian Schools project to show the world – especially those with the power to take action such as the UN and those governments involved in peace negotiations – the tragic impact and deep consequences of attacks on schools. The project draws on the strengths and capacities of the diverse participating organizations to examine the human impact of attacks on schools on Syrian society and to promote accountability for those crimes.
In March 2017, the eleven participating organizations came together for the first of what would ultimately be seven two-to-three-day workshops to officially begin collaboration on the Save Syrian Schools project.
Since the first workshop, organizations have met numerous other times, separately in sub-groups and during six subsequent collective workshops to develop the project; collect the data; and produce and plan for the final products. Throughout the course of the collaboration, the distinct strengths and capacities of each participating organization – some are experts at collecting or analyzing hard data, while others’ strength is in storytelling and building a compelling narrative from their work with victims – came together to form an even stronger whole. The data collected by each organization served to build on and corroborate the information gathered by the others.
The combination of hard data and storytelling presents a more comprehensive picture of the devastation that has been wrought than could be done with either approach alone. Stand-alone facts will not foster change in Syria just as qualitative data on its own will not bring the desired impact or results. What’s more, the main drivers behind the project are Syrians showing support for fellow Syrians – coming together with ICTJ to demand public attention and international action to end attacks on schools and seek justice for the millions of civilians who have experienced their consequences.
The collaboration has generated several different products to highlight the results of our collective research and analysis. These include an online platform, a forthcoming written report, and a week of advocacy in Geneva on the issue of attacks on schools, culminating in a public hearing style-event on March 22, 2018.
Everyone contributed something special to the project and to the group. Despite our background differences and our different jobs we found so much common ground through this project and realized that there were so many similar things we were working on but we didn't realize it till we started working together.Oula Marwa - Women Now for Development (Women Now)“
During the six workshops that took place in Istanbul, Turkey, the project participants documented their steps. Watch a short film following how they built Save Syrian Schools projects, and their reflections on the process.
Violations Documentation Center (VDC)
2,cours de riv, ch-1204 genev