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2018 | BIRN Report - Memory Fades: Syrians in Austria Speak Now in Hope of Justice Later

This report by the online journal, Balkan Insight, that reported for many years on the difficult path to achieving justice for war-crime victims during the wars in the former Yugoslavia, identifies a number of criminal complaints now being filed by human rights lawyers to the Austrian State. The complaint follows other legal cases, based on the principle of universal jurisdiction, already opened in other European countries, including Germany and France. The intention is to pursue justice for crimes committed in Syria, in the absence of international political consensus to tackle the issue at the international level.

To do so, human rights lawyers are drawing on the testimony of refugees from Syria who are now settled in several European countries. Viennese human rights lawyers took similar action in respect of Bosniak refugees who had fled the wars in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, later submitting their testimonies to the ICTY. Drawing on lessons learned, the lawyers interviewed here recall the importance of patience in regard to accountability for crimes in Syria. The ICTY began gathering evidence in the early 1990s but the level of justice and accountability that was achieved took over two decades to be accomplished. Now, Austrian prosecutors must decide whether to open a formal investigation and issue arrest warrants, joining Germany, Sweden and France in a long-shot fight for justice for victims of a seven-year war that has killed more than 500,000, displaced millions and seen tens of thousands tortured in government jails.