The head of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM) in Syria, Catherine Marchi-Uhel, said that IIIM experts and investigators have collected about a million documents relating to violations and crimes committed in Syria.
She noted that the IIIM task was to collect evidence of crimes by all parties for submission to a national, regional or international tribunal, in accordance with international law.
In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat from Geneva, Marchi-Uhel said that the IIIM was formed by a UN General Assembly resolution with the approval of 105 member states, after Russia closed the door to referring the matter to the International Criminal Court(ICC) by a UN Security Council resolution.
She stressed the importance of holding those responsible for crimes in Syria accountable, noting that reconciliation was not an easy path.
The IIIM president went on to say that there was no lasting peace in Syria without holding all responsible sides accountable.
She noted in this regard that the international mechanism worked on collecting and analyzing information and evidence of international crimes committed in Syria to assist criminal proceedings in national, regional or international courts or tribunals that have, or may in the future have, jurisdiction over these crimes.
Asked about the difference between the IIIM and the other existing mechanisms, such as the Independent International Commission of Inquiry (IICI), Marchi-Uhel explained that evidence gathered by the IICI was information and summaries of the crimes that have occurred, while the work of the IIIM was to gather evidence and information and to prepare case files within an analytical framework that links the material elements of crime to individual criminal responsibility patterns.
With regards to the witnesses, international standards must be adopted, including the person’s willingness to testify before a court. For example, some people will be willing to talk about what happened, provided they do not disclose their names, the IIIM chief noted.
The Commission’s information is very important as a starting point, she explained, adding that the two international bodies have entered into an agreement to benefit from the outcome reached in the course of their work.
As for the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), Marchi-Uhel noted that the difference between the IIIM and JIM was that the latter had conducted investigations and submitted public reports without using the principle of individual criminal responsibility.
She explained that last year, the Security Council did not renew the mandate of JIM. After collecting the facts from the scene of the crime, JIM was identifying those involved in the use of chemical weapons, but not the individual criminal responsibility. As for IIIM, it is working on studying the individual criminal responsibility to support the subsequent trial process.
Asked whether the IIIM was investigating violations committed by all parties engaged in the Syrian war, she stressed that the international body’s responsibility was to investigate the “most serious crimes” committed in Syria since 2011. “We do not look at crimes committed by one party, but by all the parties,” she said.
In this regard, Marchi-Uhel underlined the importance of neutrality and dealing with all violations without being biased against a state, party or institution.
When asked about the meaning of “the most serious crimes”, the IIIM chief replied: “In our first report to the General Assembly, we have outlined some of the criteria that we will follow.”
She ruled out the possibility of prosecuting all crimes committed in Syria because of their huge number but stressed that some crimes were considered crimes against humanity, war crimes or even genocide.
The determination criteria depends on the seriousness of the crime and the number and nature of the victims, according to Marchi-Uhel. Other considerations are taken into account, such as crimes that inflame and perpetuate conflict or impede the victims’ access to humanitarian assistance.
As for the outcome that has been reached so far, the IIIM president said that until now at least 900,000 documents or 4 billion digital units were collected, adding that a second report would be issued in the coming days.
“In order to complete the task entrusted to us by the General Assembly, memorandums of understanding must be signed with various parties. We are in the process of collecting and keeping the material in a safe place, and we are linking the crimes with the potential perpetrators to bring them to court,” she affirmed.
Replying to a question about the IIIM’s source of funding, Marchi-Uhel said that the European Union and 38 countries were supporting the mechanism voluntarily.
She noted that last October, the General Assembly requested the Secretary-General to include the funding of the mechanism within the United Nations regular budget for 2020. “We will submit a request for this in March for the 2020 budget.”
She also said that the IIIM’s budget for 2018 amounted to $14 million.
Moving to the part of evidence collection, Marchi-Uhel said that the IIIM used classic methods, including the identification of witnesses who are ready to testify, document collection, verification and credibility, in addition to videos.
One of the challenges of the mechanism is the huge volume of documents, according to the official, saying that the IIIM was in the process of developing innovative strategies to classify relevant materials in a way that demonstrates their validity and links the evidence with other supporting materials.
Asked whether the IIIM was communicating with all the Syrian sides, she replied: “With the widest possible part.” She noted in this regard that the mechanism has many times contacted the Syrian regime to request information or to explain its role.
“I will continue my efforts. I will not give up. This is very important. It is important for the Syrian people that we communicate with all parties. What I want to convey to everyone is that we are neutral in word and deed,” the IIIM president stated.
Commenting on the Syrian government’s refusal to grant the IIIM permission to send investigators to opposition-controlled areas, she said: “You should ask them why they do not cooperate with us... They say there are crimes and if they want to address these issues they must cooperate.”
Marchi-Uhel emphasized the importance of accountability to pave the way for lasting peace. She also stressed that accountability should be part of the political process in Geneva.
“Based on my experience, if there is no accountability and truth, there will be no prospect of lasting peace. I do not say that reconciliation provides a solution to all dilemmas. This is not an easy way. But, there is no doubt that peace cannot exist without some kind of justice and accountability,” she said.