Transitional Justice Pre-Transition: The International Community's Efforts in Syria

39 Pages Posted: 26 Oct 2018 Last revised: 10 Mar 2019

Date Written: October 3, 2018


This chapter focuses on the role of the international community in fostering pre-transition transitional justice. This is a project that can take multiple forms, including documentation efforts initiated by states, the UN Human Rights Council, and the General Assembly. States and NGOs also surveyed and trained Syrian actors to prepare them for undertaking a program of transitional justice, including the psychosocial rehabilitation of victims and perpetrators. With access to the International Criminal Court effectively barred by Russia’s veto, accountability alternatives included promoting a potential regional tribunal or specialised chambers that could be inserted within the Syrian judicial system, as well as national trials under principles of extraterritorial jurisdiction. Notwithstanding the pre-transition work that has been achieved to date, much will remain to be done once the war is at a close. What can be achieved from the perspective of transitional justice will depend on the composition of the next Syrian regime and the role of Bashar al-Assad, who has become a symbol of sectarian repression and is unlikely to countenance robust justice or truth-telling processes. Whether he will be open to making a genuine commitment to reconciliation and the rehabilitation of victims remains to be seen. In any case, the most enduring legacy of the international community’s pre-transition transitional justice enterprise will likely prove to be twofold. First, the international community has invested heavily in the documentation of abuses with an eye towards preserving a cache of evidence that can be tapped into as accountability processes go forward. Second is the creation of a cadre of Syrian practitioners with enhanced skills in the challenges and possibilities of transitional justice. It will be for these actors to decide what is feasible and what is desirable and whether and how to involve the international community to achieve the optimal balance between the two. With Assad still in power, there may be limited opportunities for international engagement in this regard, so Syrians across the political spectrum will have to determine for themselves whether the field of transitional justice has anything to offer as they work to rebuild their society and body politic.

Keywords: transitional justice, syria, accountability, documentation, human rights, international criminal law, Assad, retribution, rehabilitation, restorative justice

JEL Classification: K13, K14, K33, K42

Suggested Citation

Van Schaack, Beth, Transitional Justice Pre-Transition: The International Community's Efforts in Syria (October 3, 2018). Stanford Public Law Working Paper, Available at SSRN: or

Beth Van Schaack (Contact Author)

Stanford Law School ( email )

559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA 94305
United States
650 303 6832 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics