From the start, the IIIM adopted a Victim/Survivor Centred Approach (VSCA), which is integrated throughout its operations and acts as the foundation for all the IIIM’s thematic strategies for inclusive justice. The VSCA Strategy is designed to operationalise the IIIM’s committed focus on the experiences, perspectives and priorities of the broad range of victims/survivors of the Syrian conflict, as a core part of its daily work.
The VSCA is an important tool for ensuring that all of the IIIM’s work and thematic strategies are grounded in the specific context of the Syrian situation, while drawing helpful guidance from precedents arising from other justice and accountability processes.
A key methodology for the development of the VSCA is ongoing dialogue with victims/survivors of crimes in Syria, particularly through relevant victim/survivor associations, which the IIIM has prioritised from an early phase of its work. This dialogue continues to inform the IIIM’s understanding of the broad spectrum of issues arising in relation to the Syrian situation. Its thematic strategies concerning gender, children/youth and broader justice objectives are all expressions of the IIIM’s victim/survivor-centred approach.
Thematic Strategies for Inclusive Justice
The overall aim of the IIIM’s work is the creation of flexible foundations for inclusive justice for Syria. The experience of past accountability processes has shown that ensuring inclusive justice is a particular challenge requiring proactive strategies. The IIIM’s Terms of Reference recognise this by specifically requiring the IIIM to pay attention to crimes committed against children and gender-based violence, including sexual violence. These are categories of crimes that, historically, have not been well served by international criminal law frameworks.
In particular, the experiences of children/youth and victims/survivors who are in a disadvantaged position due to discriminatory gender norms and constructions, have tended to be less visible – and often invisible – in accountability work. Their voices and perspectives have been less heard. There are also other categories of victims/survivors, such as persons with disabilities, whose experiences tend to be overlooked and for whom justice outcomes are often unsatisfactory.
With this in mind, the IIIM has committed to adopting thematic strategies as a vehicle to promote inclusive justice. The overarching aim of these strategies is to ensure that the experiences, perspectives and priorities of a broad range of victims/survivors of the Syrian conflict inform the IIIM’s accountability work. The strategies also aim to ensure that, while remaining focused on its criminal justice mandate, the IIIM supports broader justice and accountability objectives wherever possible.
Over the past few decades, there has been a growing awareness that discriminatory gender constructions and norms often drive violence during conflict – usually in combination with other forms of structural discrimination based on factors such as age, ethnicity, religion and socio-economic status. Discriminatory gender factors can also have a significant bearing on how conflict-related harms are experienced by victims/survivors. At the same time, these factors have, historically, been largely unrecognised by applicable legal frameworks and much of the practice of international criminal law to date. Structural gender factors are relevant in understanding both the crimes committed in Syria and the responses of justice actors to those crimes.
For example, they may demonstrate gender discrimination supporting persecution or torture charges, adverse distinction on the basis of sex demonstrating international humanitarian law violations or inform appropriate remedies for crimes. The IIIM’s Gender Strategy is being developed and implemented to address this reality and to ensure that the preparations for justice for Syria effectively address structural gender factors. This includes paying specific attention to women and girls and persons with diverse sexual orientations or gender identities who are subjected to crimes and are disadvantaged due to the operation of the discriminatory gender hierarchy. Other groups who suffer harms in specific contexts as a result of discriminatory gender constructions also require attention, including male victims/survivors of sexual violence.
The gender constructions and the nature and extent of the discrimination experienced vary across these categories of victims/survivors and each requires a nuanced and tailored approach. As it proceeds with its work, the IIIM remains alert to other categories of victims/survivors who are in a disadvantaged position due to discriminatory gender constructions and norms and will adjust the strategy as necessary.
Children & Youth Strategy
Historically, accountability processes for core international crimes have been largely adult-centric. It has been a challenge to sufficiently surface the full range of experiences of children and youth affected by conflict and to sufficiently include their perspectives in justice processes. Here too, we see structural factors, this time relating to children/youth, in operation, along with other forms of structural discrimination. The IIIM’s Children & Youth Strategy is designed to address these factors.
It recognises that age-related factors can drive and determine the nature of violence inflicted during conflict. Age-related factors also significantly influence the experience victims/survivors have of conflict-related harms and the response of accountability actors to them. The strategy aims to build on the growing momentum within the international community to expand consideration of conflict experiences for children and youth beyond the narrow categories of child soldiers and sexual violence crimes. It recognises that a nuanced and tailored response is required to address the full spectrum of experiences arising across different age categories.
Broader justice Objectives Strategy (Missing Persons)
While the IIIM’s mandate is focused on criminal accountability, it recognises that many broader justice objectives are also important for victims/survivors of the Syrian situation. As a concrete manifestation of its VSCA, the IIIM is committed to identifying intersections between its criminal accountability work and broader justice objectives to ensure that its work can be of maximum benefit to diverse victim/survivor justice priorities.
Currently, the most pressing of these other justice objectives is accounting for the staggering number of persons who are presently missing as a result of the Syrian conflict. Consequently, as part of its Broader Justice Objectives Strategy, the IIIM is prioritising the identification of intersections between its accountability work and the search for missing persons and taking proactive steps to leverage those intersections.
These steps include:
- Proactive identification and sharing of information and evidence in the IIIM’s Central Repository of Information and Evidence that may assist in the search for the missing
- Developing witness interview protocols that integrate attention to missing persons issues alongside issues relevant to criminal accountability
Another example of the IIIM’s support for broader justice objectives is the determination by the Head of the IIIM that the IIIM can and will support non-criminal justice processes that are sufficiently linked to core international crimes in Syria and offer a meaningful justice opportunity for victims/survivors.
In the future, the IIIM will seek to identify other intersections between its accountability work and broader justice objectives and use its work to facilitate those other objectives as much as it can.
The IIIM’s foundational VSCA and the related thematic strategies are the most developed of the IIIM’s strategies to date. However, the IIIM has also identified the need for proactive approaches to other categories of victim/survivor experiences in order to ensure inclusive justice. The IIIM’s efforts to expand its consultations to understand the experiences of victims/survivors of the Syrian conflict with disabilities is an example of this.
The IIIM will seek to increase its focus on this and other relevant issues in the future.