Podcast: Syrian victim and survivor groups at forefront of justice efforts

25 July,  2022: Syrian victim and survivor groups have been increasingly active in informal transitional justice processes. They assert their political agency and demonstrate that survivors and victims are the key stakeholders in justice initiatives. In our latest podcast with Justice Visions, we zoom in on the origin of victims’ activism and some main break-throughs.


Victims and their families felt that international efforts were almost nonexistent or failed to meet their demands. Christalla Yakinthou, a scholar of transitional justice at Birmingham university, argues that in response to this stalemate, Syrian victims’ groups started to emerge around 2016. The moment was ripe for the establishment of groups that assist victims and propose concrete solutions to their justice needs, such as finding out the fate of the disappeared and the missing.

In that dual context of the escalation of violence and the feeling that the international community wasn’t going to do anything, there was this emerging sense of what can we do for ourselves?
- Christalla Yakinthou


Within this context, in 2021 five victim groups launched the Truth and Justice Charter, in which they set out their short-term and long-term justice perspectives. Yasmen Almashan, of the Caesar Families Association -one of the Charter groups- explains: “justice paths are usually long. But there are urgent needs and necessities for us as families that must be prioritized. These are an immediate halt to torture, inhuman treatment, and sexual crimes in detention centers and prisons, revealing the fate of the forcibly disappeared, and returning the remains of those killed.”
These efforts have not gone unnoticed internationally. Riyad Avlar of the Association of Detainees and the Missing in Sednaya Prison upholds that victim groups proved to the international community that victims have the potential to propose and lead initiatives that meet their needs. “The most important issue that we are currently working on as victims’ groups is a mechanism for missing persons in Syria. The mechanism must be international, this is crucial.”
Even if victim groups managed to create their own spaces for activism and impose their participation, they carry a huge burden on their shoulders. Agency comes with a cost, as Hiba al-Hamed of the Coalition of Families of persons Kidnapped by ISIS explains. “It is not easy, remembering every time these sad stories, talking about our beloved ones and mentioning personal details.” Their struggle and the realization that the road is long, weighs heavy. “But our voices at least are heard and nothing is imposed on us”, Hiba argues.

Listen to the episode

Dr Christalla Yakinthou is a practice-focused political scientist at the University of Birmingham who has worked over a decade in transitional justice as a practitioner, advisor, and scholar. Christalla focuses on supporting greater survivor and activist ownership of transitional justice processes, and on building more trustful, engaged, and inclusive societies.

Riyad Avlar is a former detainee who spent 21 years in prison in Syria. During his detention, he remained forcibly disappeared for 15 years. He was released from detention on 24 December 2016. He is one of the founders of the Association of Detainees and Missing Persons at Sednaya Prison and currently serves as the country director of the organization.

Yasmen Almashan is a founding member of the Caesar Families Association and is responsible for communication and internal coordination. Yasmine lost five brothers in Syria; four were disappeared or killed by the Syrian regime and a fifth one by ISIS. She recognized her brother’s Uqba picture among the Caesar photographs. After the loss of her brothers, she left the country.

Hiba Alhamed is a board member of the Coalition of Families of persons Kidnapped by ISIS, or Massar. It works to unveil the fate of people who were kidnapped by ISIS and to hold accountable those who are responsible. Hiba’s father Ismail, a political opponent, was kidnapped by ISIS in Raqqa in 2013. His fate remains unknown.

Header Image: Victim and survivors groups in Berlin campaigning for missing and detained © Caesar Families Association