Their Cause Remains Alive!
Their Cause Remains Alive!
On the morning of Eid, Khawla could not think of a place to visit where she could honor her husband, who had been killed in a Syrian regime prison, other than the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the European city where she had taken refuge. She had started planning this idea during the last few days of Ramadan, desperate to maintain the change that she had seen in her two young daughters’ state of mind. For the first time, she saw them beam with pride in their martyred father. After months of mourning and anguish, she saw that they were gushing to honor him with a visit to this monument, which perhaps appeared to them as an embodiment of the unknown victims who had silently sacrificed what had been most dear to them for their rights and freedoms.
When she took a chance, riding the sea waves to get to Europe, she would dream of a stable and safe life for her daughters and of reuniting with her husband before long. She had hoped that he would eventually be released, since he had not carried arms nor hurt anyone and had been imprisoned on the mere suspicion that he had taken part in one of the peaceful protests that had engulfed most of the districts of the Syrian capital. However, less than a year ago, his family told her that they had recently received notice of his death from the secretary of the civil register. She did not hide this news from her daughters; she tried to feign strength and resolve as she told them that their father had been killed because he dreamed of a better and more beautiful country, like the one where they now lived.
Initially, she was worried that her daughters did not accept this final loss that had shrouded their lives with deep sorrow. She tried to alleviate their suffering over the fate of their father and his choices, putting it in the context of collective sacrifice by Syrians. He was one of the hundreds of thousands who were unjustly arrested and forcibly disappeared in prison.
She tried to encourage them to look through social media in search of news or pieces of information that illustrate the oppression that the Syrian people are suffering from. She once showed them the activities and manifestations of human sympathy that were invoked by the dissemination of photos of the regime’s victims, known as the “Caesar photos”. She did not hesitate to exaggerate the magnitude of this sympathy and the number of rights organizations that demanded that the Syrian regime be held accountable and tried. She also encouraged them to join the Syrian “freedom bus” that carried the photos of many detainees and roamed European cities. She also encouraged them to take part in a sit-in for the mothers and wives of the disappeared that was held in front of the Syrian embassy to demand that the fate of their sons be revealed.
A third time, she tried to bring to their attention the decision that the German court had taken to hold a trial for Jamil Hassan and Ali Mamlouk, two prominent officers in the Syrian institution of repression, and demand that the Interpol arrest them. She was delighted when her younger daughter asked about the likelihood of Hassan being arrested in Beirut after he had received treatment at one of its hospitals and that her daughter became interested in persecuting the perpetrators who had violated her father and the other detainees.
However, her most successful attempt was convincing the two girls to attend the German trial of one of the officers of the al-Khateeb security branch in Damascus, where her husband had been detained. She wanted them to witness a scene that would reassure them that their father’s blood had not been spilled in vain and that this was the beginning of the process of holding all perpetrators of crimes against humanity in Syria accountable.
Her determination to attend the trial was not hampered by the claim that the officer had defected from the regime and taken part in some of the opposition’s activities because, in her opinion, the issue pertains to the crimes he had committed against individual human beings, as stated by the survivors who had testified to his role in torturing them and raping female detainees or facilitating their rape. Her resolve was strengthened by her belief that if his defection from the Syrian regime and his objection to its actions were genuine, he would be compelled to reveal the shocking facts. She thought: where is the harm in being questioned and held accountable before a court that he had acknowledged as independent and just?
She was also not discouraged by others saying that trying an officer who did not belong to the ruling Alawite class would turn attention away from those who are actually responsible, because she had been raised to see killers as killers, regardless of their religion, gender or position. The crimes against humanity committed by Islamist terrorism are the same as the crimes committed by the regime, even if the latter’s crimes were more grotesque, severe and creative.
She became even more certain of her position when she saw how this executioner dealt with the accusations against him: He downplayed his crimes against innocent people, saying: “My task was to interrogate detainees. I was in a critical position, I was not always able to deal with them moderately”, or how he shifted all of the responsibility from himself onto his superiors or investigators in other security branches, turning the scene into a kind of silly back and forth, pointing to the names of other officers and the torture methods that they had used had become known and are now being legally investigated.
More importantly, her eyes lit up with joy as she watched her daughters interact with the witnesses and their families, how they went from one group to the next to introduce themselves as the daughters of a martyr of the Syrian revolution who had been killed by authoritarian treachery. She watched how they became among the victims who were eager to expose all the torture and killing that had taken place inside the prisons of the regime and intelligence services and they wanted to give their testimony in pursuit of justice for the crimes committed in Syria.
A few days after their return, when her elder daughter surprised her with a question about the definition of transitional justice, Khawla did not try to find out how this idea had occurred to her daughter; instead, they researched together the meaning of this notion online, and its relation to what was happening with them. They found out that it was one the rules of thumb for turning the page after protracted civil wars and that it was a way for Syria to rid itself of some of the heavy burdens and painful remnants of the bloody conflict and the extreme violence that have persisted for nine consecutive years. They were relieved to know that it had nothing to do with vengeance; rather, that it had to do with fairly trying and persecuting criminals and those complicit with them, as well as securing the rights of all those who had been damaged and their families, compensating and remembering them. They were also very much relieved by the fact that without addressing this humanitarian file, the massive gaps caused by years of war cannot be bridged and it would not be possible to build a free nation that respects human rights, tolerance and coexistence.