Guernica 37
Guernica 37

Catherine Marchi-Uhel appointed as Head of the UN mechanism to investigate international crimes in Syria

Image by: Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia

Catherine Marchi-Uhel has been appointed as Head of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Those Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011, established by the UN General Assembly in December 2016.

Marchi-Uhel has unparalleled experience in the fields of criminal law, transitional justice and human rights, having served as a Judge in France, at the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, and at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.

Moreover, as Senior Legal Officer and Head of Chambers at the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia she has already had the opportunity to lead international criminal investigations. In 2015, she was appointed as Ombudsperson for the Security Council Committee.

This appointment marks the starting point for the functioning of an international institution tasked with the collection, consolidation, preservation and analysis of evidence pertaining to violations and abuses of human rights and humanitarian law committed in the Syrian armed conflict.

The Mechanism will support and coordinate the various international efforts undertaken in different jurisdictions to bring accountability for international crimes committed in Syria. A central aim is to prepare files “in order to facilitate and expedite fair and independent criminal proceedings, in accordance with international law standards, in national, regional or international courts or tribunals that have or may in the future have jurisdiction over these crimes, in accordance with international law“.

Guernica 37 welcomes this appointment, which brings hope to the thousands of Syrian victims that are currently demanding support from the international community in the fight against impunity in their country.

Human Rights Watch has published a short statement about this new appointment, describing it as a “a small step in the difficult struggle for justice, redress and an end to impunity that has marked the bloody conflict“:

A Small Step Toward Justice in Syria

Today, the UN Secretary-General appointed Catherine Marchi-Uhel to head a new UN team tasked with investigating serious crimes committed in Syria since 2011. For victims who have known nothing but suffering, despair and abandonment, the creation of this team represents a small step in the difficult struggle for justice, redress and an end to impunity that has marked the bloody conflict.

The UN General Assembly created the team, formally referred to as the “International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism,” in an unprecedented resolution passed last December in response to Russia’s relentless obstruction on Syria at the Security Council, where it has used its veto eight times since 2011 to block council action on the Syrian conflict. The team will work to gather, preserve and analyze potential evidence for use in courts that may have a mandate over these crimes now or in the future. Similar to a prosecutor’s office, the team will also prepare files on specific individuals to facilitate criminal proceedings.

Marchi-Uhel’s appointment is part of a push to bring justice to victims in Syria despite the blockages that exist. She has extensive international criminal law experience and was previously head of chambers at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, among other posts. Marchi-Uhel will undoubtedly face challenges ahead, including developing strong cases, building bridges with victims, collaborating with other documentation groups, as well as ensuring financial and diplomatic support from states. The UN team’s estimated cost for the first year is about $13-million; as of June, it had received pledges of a little more than $6-million from 26 countries. It’s essential for all UN member states to help close the funding gap. The team is expected to have a staff of 50 when it reaches its full size.

The creation of the team, along with other documentation efforts, are a critical part of the long march to justice for Syria’s victims after years of unchecked atrocities. Several countries, including Sweden, Germany, and France, are already in the process of investigating some individuals alleged to have committed serious crimes such as torture, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria. The UN team under the leadership of Marchi-Uhel can further contribute to these efforts. Their work should help to ensure that the horrendous atrocities committed in Syria over the past six years cannot be swept away with a veto.


This piece was originally published on 3rd July 2017 at Human Rights Watch.

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