Syrians and activists gather at For Sama Wall to reflect on pursuit of justice after 10 years of war

Syrians and activists gather at For Sama Wall to reflect on pursuit of justice after 10 years of war
3 min read
29 June, 2021
The small gathering in East London was hosted by Syrian barrister Ibrahim Olabi, who was pragmatic but optimistic about the 'pursuit of justice' in Syria.
The For Sama Wall in East London where around a dozen Syrians and activists gathered on Monday

A group of Syrians and activists gathered at the For Sama Wall in East London on Monday to discuss justice and human rights in Syria after ten years of war. 

The event was hosted by Syrian barrister Ibrahim Olabi, who offered a pragmatic account of how justice in Syria is a sliding scale and not a binary entity of justice or no justice. 

Waad Al-Kateab, Syrian journalist and producer of the award-winning documentary For Sama, attended the event alongside her husband Hamza and their two young children - five-year-old Sama, after whom the documentary was named after, and her younger sister Taima.

The sisters handed out apples and cakes to the attendees before discussions explored the "pursuit of justice" for Syria inside and outside of international criminal courts. 

For a long time, “justice was not applicable to Syria,” said Olabi.

The lawyer, who is part of the international justice chambers Guernic 37 and specialises in international law related to Syria, explained that crimes committed during the war happened so frequently and were so severe it was difficult to know where to start. 

Image of Ibrahim Olabi
Image of Syrian barrister Ibrahim Olabi who has drafted submissions to the International Criminal Court on Syria and worked with senior UK politicians to achieve justice in the country.

However, he argued that justice for Syria - when defined not just in legal terms but socially, culturally, and politically - was already visible and being actively pursued, despite pushback and complacency from domestic and international actors. 

Olabi said justice involves denying the Syrian regime their narrative of events and history, labelling them as “perpetrators” and making things difficult for them. 

“The regime cares about silencing,” he remarked. But, their attempts to call the conflict a "war on terror" are still being challenged.  "[It’s] what we managed to stop from happening.” 

The lawyer, who has worked with senior politicians including foreign and Middle East ministers, urged activists to work with the Tory government by writing to MPs. 

They are “willing to listen,” he said, and have been “very supportive” of campaigns to address human rights abuses in Syria. 

The “best hook,” he added, is to talk about crimes involving chemical weapons in Syria, following the chemical attack in Salisbury on UK soil in March 2018. 

“All the instruments are there for them to act, it’s about creating the will,” he said. 

Conversations also touched on building a criminal case against Asma al-Assad, wife of Bashar al-Assad who has British citizenship, as well as the use of sanctions in Syria, which Olabi argued can be a useful policy but cannot secure justice alone.  

Ultimately, the event bore optimism for the future.

It has taken us "ten years to learn" that justice is not zero and one, said Olabi.

However, the Syrian diaspora around the world will be “Syria reborn.”