Two Syrian refugees suspected of war crimes are due to appear in court in the coming weeks. In both cases, an important role is reserved for a Syrian organization that traces suspects of war crimes and provides the golden tip to the judiciary.
One of the suspects was arrested early this year in Arkel, South Holland, much to the horror of local residents. He is said to have been a security chief of the terrorist organization Islamic State (IS). According to the judiciary, he had a leading role in an IS branch in southern Damascus that is responsible for kidnappings, murders and espionage.
The other suspect was arrested a few months earlier in Kerkrade, because he might have been an accomplice in the regime of Syrian President Assad. He would have been involved in a violent arrest of a civilian. The victim was later tortured in captivity.
The Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) appears to be an indispensable link in the detection of suspects who now manage to remain under the radar as asylum seekers in Europe. The Syrian organization operates from Paris. SCM has shared at least five files with the Dutch authorities about Syrians who may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity and then fled to the Netherlands with the asylum stream.
“Not Out of Revenge”
Human rights activist and lawyer Mazen Darwish founded SCM almost twenty years ago. He himself was imprisoned several times in his native Syria for his criticism of the Assad regime.
“What we are doing is not out of revenge, or because I myself am a victim of torture and kidnapping, but rather to protect society from revenge. Without justice, there will be no end to this war,” said Darwish.
It is important that those responsible for our flight are held accountable
Among the suspects that Darwish’s organization is trying to track down are both supporters of Assad and members of resistance groups against Assad. There is also a search for leaders of IS.
The SCM has been recording war crimes since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011. An extensive database now contains more than 400,000 pieces of evidence that can be linked to possible war crimes and other human rights violations.
The evidence comes from our own research, tips from the Syrian community or observations and recognition on social media. Tarek Hokan heads the SCM investigative team that compiles files on war criminals.
“We are looking into whether information can be linked to the suspect: what kind of crimes are involved? Were there victims? If so, can we speak to them?” Then they consult public sources. “Then we check whether the information matches the material from our database.”
Where possible, files are shared with the judiciary. This has already led to arrests and convictions in several European countries.
“A valuable contribution”
In the Netherlands, the SCM has contributed to at least five cases. For example, the organization handed over a large number of witness statements and background information to the judiciary in the investigations into both the suspect from Kerkrade and the suspect from Arkel.
The data is shared with the International Crimes Team (TIM) of the police. According to the Public Prosecution Service, the information from the SCM can form the beginning of a criminal investigation, but it is never the end point. The SCM can also provide or verify evidence at the request of the Dutch authorities. The Public Prosecution Service itself thoroughly checks the information supplied.
According to the judiciary, the data from the SCM can make “a valuable contribution” to criminal cases, because the organization is deeply rooted in a society outside the Netherlands. “There where an international crime has taken place. Potential witnesses can tell their story in an accessible way.”
Return to Syria
So far, at least two Syrian suspects have been convicted in the Netherlands with the help of the SCM. A Syrian asylum seeker who was apprehended in Kapelle was sentenced to 20 years in prison for executing a prisoner. A man who was arrested in the AZC in Ter Apel in 2019 has been sentenced to more than five years in prison for participating in a terrorist organization in Syria.
If it’s up to Mazen Darwish, it won’t stop at these things. “It is important that those responsible for our flight are held accountable. Then there is a possibility for us to return to Syria. And that it is a place where people can live in peace .”
- OM: suspected IS security chief arrested in Arkel
- Syrian arrested in Kerkrade on suspicion of war crimes
- 20 years in prison for Syrian asylum seeker from Kapelle