Frequently asked questions

By creating the Mechanism in December 2016, the UN General Assembly emphasized the need to ensure accountability for crimes involving violations of international law committed in Syria. In paragraph 4 of resolution 71/248, the UN General Assembly decided to establish the Mechanism ‘to assist in the investigation and prosecution of persons responsible for the most serious crimes under international law committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011’.
The Mechanism is mandated to conduct two tasks: first, to collect, consolidate, preserve and analyse evidence of violations; and second, to prepare files to facilitate and expedite fair and independent criminal proceedings in national, regional or international courts, in accordance with international law. The UN Secretary-General released a report in January 2017 with terms of reference that further explain the mandate of the Mechanism.
The Mechanism will collect evidence and relevant information by receiving it from other sources, including the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, the Joint Investigative Mechanism, States, international or regional organizations, entities of the United Nations system, non-governmental organizations, foundations and individuals. The Mechanism will also directly collect, as appropriate, additional evidence or information, including interviews, witness testimony, documentation, and forensic material.
The Mechanism will adopt procedures, in accordance with international criminal law standards, to collect evidence. It will take appropriate measures to respect and ensure respect for the confidentiality, privacy, interests and personal circumstances of victims, and taking into account the nature of the crime. The Mechanism will safeguard, control, and track access to all relevant information taken into its possession, from the time of receipt until transfer to competent jurisdictions.
The files prepared by the Mechanism will only be shared with courts or tribunals that respect international human rights law and standards, including the right to a fair trial, and where the death penalty would not apply.
The Mechanism is neither a tribunal or court, nor a prosecutor’s office. Its mandate is to consolidate and analyse the evidence and information it collects, preserve it, establish criminal case files, and share these files with competent courts and tribunals so as to assist with the investigation and prosecution of persons allegedly responsible.
The Mechanism will not have the capacity to provide a full-fledged witness protection system, including, for instance, a witness relocation programme. However, the Mechanism will explore with States the possibility for them to provide such forms of protection when needed. This could happen, for instance, when the Mechanism facilitates contacts between national prosecutorial or judicial authorities and persons willing to testify in proceedings in the associated country.
The mandates of these two bodies are distinct but complementary. The Commission of Inquiry on Syria is expected to continue to directly collect information, report on broad patterns of violations and make recommendations, notably to Member States of the UN. Its work will remain visible and publicly reported. In contrast, the Mechanism is not expected to publicly report on its substantive work. Its role will be to consolidate and analyse evidence, preserve it, and establish case files to assist courts.
The Mechanism shall submit a report to the General Assembly twice a year on the implementation of its mandate. Beyond that, the Mechanism will not share with the general public its files, information on its files, or information on persons allegedly responsible for serious crimes in Syria.
The Mechanism is an independent and impartial body. Its Head, Deputy and Secretariat will exercise their mandate and discharge their functions in full independence and impartiality, without seeking or accepting instructions regarding the performance of their duties from any Government or external source. The Mechanism will engage with a number of stakeholders, including NGOs, States, international organisations and other entities. However, it shall not accept any interference from any of these entities, nor shall it be influenced by them in carrying out its mandate.
The UN General Assembly decided that the Mechanism will be funded, at least initially, by voluntary contributions from UN Member States. Annual operating needs for the first year have been estimated to amount to around US$ 14,3 million. The General Assembly has undertaken to revisit the question of funding for the Mechanism and it is hoped that, at the appropriate juncture, States will move the Mechanism’s funding from voluntary contributions to the regular UN budget.