Since 2011, following the intensification of violence in Syria and after the situation developed into one or more armed conflicts, there have been multiple reports from various entities, including the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, denouncing and attributing atrocities to various parties. This led to strong calls for accountability from within the United Nations system and among States, but political deadlocks ruled out many of the most obvious solutions. In particular, the Security Council did not reach an agreement on referring the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court or establishing an international tribunal with jurisdiction over these crimes.
Against this background, in December 2016, the UN General Assembly created the IIIM and emphasised the need to ensure accountability for crimes involving violations of international law committed in Syria. In paragraph 4 of resolution A/71/248, the UN General Assembly decided to establish the IIIM “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”.
While the IIIM is a temporary organ, the General Assembly did not limit its mandate in time.
The IIIM assists in the investigation and prosecution of the most serious crimes under international law, also referred to as core international crimes (i.e. war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide), as defined in relevant sources of international law.
No. The IIIM is neither a prosecutor’s office nor a court and cannot issue indictments or run trials.
The determining factor for sharing files with Syrian prosecution and judicial authorities, like any other State jurisdiction, is whether they respect international human rights law and standards, including the right to a fair trial, and whether the death penalty applies for the offences under consideration.
Yes. The IIIM’s mandate defines the scope of its work and allows for the contribution to broader justice efforts. Information collected by the IIIM may be of relevance not only in the context of criminal proceedings, but also in the context of other processes. For example, for families desperate to find out about the fate of their loved ones, or for future transitional justice processes.
To enable this, the IIIM makes every effort to develop processes to broaden the information that can be collected, in order to create more opportunities to contribute to the work of international bodies mandated to achieve other justice objectives.
Upholding independence means that the IIIM will not act on instructions from any entity in performing its work, nor will it be influenced by the agendas of any external actor. The IIIM will not import any conclusion drawn by other bodies regarding the material it collects from various sources. Instead, it will make its own objective assessment of the material received and draw its own conclusions, applying a criminal law standard.
On ensuring impartiality, it means that the IIIM will not apply any bias against, or in favour of, any particular State, group or individual. Instead, it will address crimes committed in Syria regardless of any affiliation of the alleged perpetrators.
The IIIM’s efforts to collect evidence and to select case files will reflect the fact that alleged crimes to date concern all actors involved in the conflict/s and have affected victims on all sides. This does not mean that an equal number of case files must be prepared against perpetrators on all sides, if the evidence shows that the volume or gravity of crimes differs.
The IIIM’s mandate is different from those of other United Nations bodies that have been documenting violations committed in Syria. In particular, the IIIM’s work moves out of the traditional human rights fact-finding realm and falls squarely within a criminal accountability framework. In addition to applying rigorous criminal law evidentiary frameworks for establishing the occurrence of crimes (referred to in the international criminal law context as “crime-base” evidence), the IIIM’s work focuses on identifying evidence that links these crimes to specific individuals.
Yes. The Conference of State Parties of the OPCW adopted a landmark Decision, on 27 June 2018, “addressing the threat from Chemical Weapons use”, in which it decided that:
“the Secretariat shall put in place arrangements to identify the perpetrators of the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic by identifying and reporting on all information potentially relevant to the origin of those chemical weapons in those instances in which the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission in Syria determines or has determined that use or likely use occurred, and cases for which the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative IIIM has not issued a report; and decides also that the Secretariat shall provide regular reports on its investigations to the Council and to the United Nations Secretary-General for their consideration.”
In this same decision, it was decided that the Secretariat “shall preserve and provide information” to the IIIM.
The IIIM and OPCW signed a cooperation agreement (Memorandum of Understanding) which allows the IIIM to access important material collected by OPCW, including its Investigation and Identification Team (IIT).
The IIIM and States
When establishing the IIIM, the General Assembly called upon all States, all parties to the conflict as well as civil society to cooperate fully with the IIIM and to provide it with any information and documentation they may possess, as well as any other forms of assistance pertaining to its mandate.
Yes, as from any other State or entity. The IIIM is willing to collect material from a very wide variety of sources.
Syria is likely to have in its possession information that could potentially be relevant to establish the commission of international crimes by various actors involved in the conflict. The IIIM hopes, therefore, that Syria will be willing to provide the IIIM with such relevant information.
The IIIM and Civil Society
The role of civil society is central to the IIIM’s work. The IIIM considers it essential that relationships of trust are built and nurtured with Syrian civil society, as well as Civil Society Organisations operating regionally and internationally.
An important part of the IIIM’s work involves outreach to civil society to enhance their understanding of the IIIM’s mandate, discuss modalities for engagement and proactive cooperation, and foster a commitment to providing the IIIM with relevant information and documentation in their possession.
The IIIM is prioritising engagement with Syrian CSOs and is firmly committed to maintaining a two-way communication and to ensure that the voices of victims/survivors are heard.
On the 3rd of April 2018 in Lausanne, the IIIM and 28 Syrian CSOs signed a Protocol of Collaboration outlining a set of overarching principles to guide mutual engagement. The document is also meant to ensure reciprocal understanding regarding opportunities for collaboration and provides a general framework for other CSOs looking to work with the IIIM.
Sharing evidence and information of crimes committed in Syria is only a part of the work of the IIIM. Broadly, this effort is complementary to the work of others and is neither a duplication nor a replacement, ultimately contributing to the same goal of facilitating accountability for the crimes committed.
As more jurisdictions investigate crimes, information and evidence shared by CSOs with the IIIM is collected, consolidated and aggregated in the Central Repository of Information and Evidence. This increases the chances that the evidence can support or corroborate other existing evidence and be used in national proceedings. This is because prosecutors are already aware of the IIIM’s work and its criminal law standard methods, and also because they can access targeted information and analytical products to support their cases.
The IIIM will keep the CSOs who provide material updated on the sharing of their material with competent jurisdictions, within the limits of confidentiality requirements. Confidentiality is clearly stipulated in the mandate of the IIIM and necessary for the protection of the investigation process, in particular to safeguard the integrity of the investigation and to ensure the protection of victims and witnesses.
The IIIM, whenever possible, and subject to operational constraints, will endeavour to provide feedback to Syrian CSOs that have submitted information and evidence.
The IIIM does not have the capacity to provide a full-fledged witness protection system, such as a witness relocation programme. However, the IIIM engages with States regarding possible ways they may provide such forms of protection when needed. This could happen, for instance, when the IIIM facilitates contacts between national prosecutorial or judicial authorities and persons willing to testify in proceedings in the associated country. More generally, the IIIM has rigorous security protocols governing its interaction with witnesses and is developing witness support capabilities considering its increased engagement with witnesses.
The IIIM submits a report to the General Assembly once a year on the implementation of its mandate.
The IIIM is aware of the importance of keeping the wider public abreast of developments and progress in its work, within the limits of confidentiality. This is a key consideration, including in outreach with civil society, States and other actors. Therefore, whenever possible, and subject to protection concerns and confidentiality obligations, the IIIM will make every effort to inform about its work and progress.
Beyond that, the IIIM will not share with the general public its files, information on its files, or information on persons allegedly responsible for serious crimes in Syria. It will also not share any information whenever concerns arise regarding protection, safety and security of victims, witnesses and other people.