It was back in 2011 that the uprising in Syria began. One of those covering the following events firsthand was war correspondent Marie Colvin. She was killed shortly after broadcasting live on CNN from the besieged city of Homs. Earlier in 2019 an American court found the Syrian government liable for her death. Syrian journalist Mansour Omari explains what the judgment means to him.
At the very moment I heard the great news, I was also in shock at hearing about the death of a fellow Syrian detainee, whom I left behind when I was released in 2013 from a dark underground [Syrian president Bashar al]Assad cell. “Marie Colvin targeted and killed by Assad”, a US court ruled in January 30, 2019, six years after her assassination while trying to light on the truth in Syria. I celebrated the rest of my day.
I woke up the next day and was having my morning coffee to quench my hangover, while reading more on the details of the court decision.
For years, I have been struggling with others to break a brick in the wall of impunity that has been protecting Assad. The court news came as a breach in the justice stalemate Syrians are suffering. It was the first court sentence against the Assad regime, since he started massacring his own people in 2011.
There was no path to justice for Syrians. Their own country’s judicial system prosecutes them, and it is a key weapon in the Assad regime’s war on his people. The International Criminal Court’s mandate is curbed by the Russian and Chinese vetoes [at the United Nations] on referring the situation in Syria to the main possible international justice avenue. The method of universal jurisdiction in some EU countries was not yet on the radar.
So, I with others, as of 2013, searched for foreigner victims whose countries are obliged to open investigations and start trials against Assad. Through this method, the Assad regime would be held accountable for crimes he committed against Syrians, but through providing justice to non-Syrians.
Then comes Marie’s case. The court condemned Assad regime on of his most favourite targets: journalists and the media, and also was based on overview of the policies and practices of Assad regime and its systematic targeting of the media.
The court ordered Assad to pay $302.5 million to Marie’s family. Sending a message to Syrians that justice is not a dream, and to other perpetrators that impunity will not remain the norm in our days.
But there is a key element that makes this case unpromising to Syrians. It was only made possible because Marie was American.
Though it was a civil case, there was something missing for Syrians in the court sentence. The real punishment that Assad deserves. Normally a killer gets more than a fine. The amount that will eventually be collected from Assad’s frozen money outside Syria is not really Assad’s money, but it is the money he stole from the Syrian people, and it is frozen anyway. Would this fine stop Assad or change his behaviour towards American journalists? Most probably no, as among other reasons, he is still lying about the fate of Austin Tice. But it definitely will not stop Assad’s ongoing crimes against the Syrian journalists, and people. In reality, with all the efforts to find a path for justice for Syrians, Assad is still in power and committing the same crimes.
Marie’s case also serves as a sharp example of a justice that was selective, in terms of citizenship: A team of an American, a British, two French, and a Syrian were all hit by the same missile, but they didn’t receive the same justice.
“Colvin’s relatives to be awarded $302.5 million”, but no news on any kind of justice for the Frenchman, Rémi Ochlik who was killed, and Edith Bouvier who was injured, or the Brit Paul Conroy who was injured. Whereas Wael al-Omar, the Syrian who was injured, is stranded now in exile, suffering the loss of his homeland too, while Assad goes on and on.
A Ray of Light for Syrians
The right of Marie and her family to justice is not to be debated. But this time Syrians were not included in this justice, though it carried symbolic positive messages. The US does not have universal jurisdiction, so there is no hope for Syrians to file legal cases in the US depending on this method. But there could be a ray of light. This court ruling that condemned Assad of committing a war crime, should be built on, especially that now the US has the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act and the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act. Both acts have great capacity to provide justice and prevent atrocities against people, including Syrians. American human rights lawyers can review both laws and maybe find possible paths to hold Assad accountable and file legal cases against him in the US to provide some justice to millions of Syrians, Americans and all other victims of Assad from different nationalities.
The US can through these two acts, support efforts for justice in the EU and everywhere including the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM), financially and politically. The US is the most powerful country on earth, and this gives it the power and the moral obligation to help the weak.
I thought of Marie, the hero who sacrificed her life for others, and what would she say or do if she knew she was the only one who received justice, among her colleagues.
I finished my coffee, contacted Youssef’s family to offer my condolences and promising them to keep working till I get them justice. Youssef is one of hundreds of thousands detained, disappeared and killed by Assad regime. He also was one 82 of my fellow detainees’ names that we wrote in blood and rust on cloth, while in detention. I smuggled them from underground in Damascus, and later they were displayed in Syria Exhibit in United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC.