Following a scoping visit to Damascus in December 2004 in partnership with the British Council, BHRC implemented a number of training programmes in Syria in 2005.
In March BHRC sent a delegation to train on international humanitarian law with a focus on the International Criminal Court (ICC).The workshop introduced public international law, international criminal law, the history of international criminal tribunals and explored serious crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC.
One of the issues we were invited to consider during the scoping visit was how Syrian law could be developed to assist the establishment of NGOs and civil society. We analysed amendments to the Association Law No.93 of 1958 and identified administrative and legal challenges. We followed this up by sending a BHRC representative to participate in a workshop organised by the Syrian Commission for Family Affairs in March, on reviewing the Syrian Association Law. He presented a paper on the legal framework within which NGOs operate in the UK and highlighted the differences in the legal framework between the common law and civil law jurisdictions. Concluding observations recommended the need for the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of association in practical and effective means in order to encourage a vibrant civil society.
In April another delegation provided training on ‘Protecting the Rights of Women and Children Using International Human Rights Standards’. This workshop introduced sources of human rights law, regional inter-governmental human rights mechanisms, discrimination, equality and violence against women. Discussions were held with reference to the existence of numerous laws which aim to protect women’s rights and problems of enforcement mechanisms.
In February 2006, the BHRC delivered a “vulnerable witnesses” training programme to Syrian lawyers in Damascus. The training focused on UN and European conventions in relation to juveniles and women as well as UK legislation in relation to domestic violence and the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.
In April 2007, the BHRC organised an International Law in the Age of Conflict conference in Damascus in collaboration with the British Council (Syria) and the Orient Centre. This conference included the participation of prestigious academics, legal practitioners and think tanks from Europe and the Middle East. The subjects discussed were Terrorism – Legislation against terror – Protection of civil rights versus national security; Victor’s justice; the International Criminal Court and war crimes; State Liability for Violations of International Humanitarian Law; Conflict Mediation and Resolution in the context of the Middle East and post 9/11 and Accounting and accountability; The international communities’ obligations regarding the financing of terror organisations.
The Syrian participants who included many senior judges, academics and lawyers, focused on the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict, the War in Lebanon and an ad hoc tribunal to look into the death in 2005 of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Also discussed was the loss of civil liberties in detention places such as Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.
This conference was deemed to be of great importance especially in the aftermath of 9/11 and due to the subsequent measures taken by western governments in Iraq.
Extremely important links and contacts were made between the BHRC delegation and the Syrian participants and think tanks. The BHRC team consisted of, Mark Muller QC, Ian MacDonald QC, Professor Bill Bowring, Nicholas Stewart QC, Professor Guy Goodwin Gill, Mr David Petrasek, Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh, Michael Roake (ABA) and Naoimh Hughes.