An underreported court case in Spain is giving Syrians hope. After a Spanish woman found photographic evidence of the 2013 torture and murder of her brother, in March 2017 Spain ordered a criminal investigation into Syrian government crimes. Spain is the first country to prosecute top Syrian officials on charges of "state terrorism." The case highlights what Syrians know: Ending the violence, while important, is only one step on the long road toward lasting peace. For peace to last, past injustices must be addressed. Only accountability will ultimately heal the wounds of seven years of war.
Accountability is not an abstract concept—it is a practice, a process, and a principle which ensures legal responsibility and criminal prosecution for perpetrators of war crimes. We have seen real accountability in the past. Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb leader, faced accountability when he was sentenced to 40 years of imprisonment for his role ethnic cleansing. While efforts to pursue accountability in the Balkans were far from perfect, prosecutors rightfully established that the wholesale slaughter of 8,000 Muslim men and boys was a crime that could and should be tried, prosecuted and punished.
Syrians are just as deserving of accountability measures. But what does accountability mean in the midst war? For us Syrians, accountability means not allowing a Russian veto to hinder action on the part of the United Nations. Accountability is the international community using the tools it already has, whether through limited strikes against those who gas, kill or maim civilians or efforts to hold the Syrian regime responsible for its attacks on civilians, hospitals, and aid workers; for its use of illegal and indiscriminate weapons; for its use of mass detention, kidnappings and torture; and for its use of nerve gas on a sleeping town.
For us, women in the Syrian Women’s Advisory Committee, advisors to the Syrian opposition, we hold accountability as an essential element for negotiating a sustainable peace. We have been pressing the Syrian opposition to address the real markers of peace: protection of civilians, accountability for war crimes, and a political end to the war.
Over the last seven years, Syrian women have gradually assumed more substantive roles in the quest for peace. In negotiations taking place in Geneva and elsewhere, Syrian women are leading voices in the push for accountability and the release of detainees. Both of these issues remained high on the agenda at every round of the Geneva talks because of the efforts of Syrian women. Justice for detainees and accountability for war crimes are primary concerns of the Syrian opposition and the international community because women—Syrian women—champion these causes.
Ahead of the next round of peace talks in Geneva, we continue our work for accountability and justice. We in the Women's Advisory Committee have been doing the intensive work of peacemaking. We now need the international community to follow suit.