Medical expert documentation can constitute compelling expert evidence of torture and sexual violence that advances accountability and ultimately reduces impunity for international crimes and grave human rights violations.
Synergy for Justice trains and supports organisations to carry out medical documentation to the highest of international standards. Comprised of global justice and accountability practitioners, we understand the considerable challenges in collecting evidence and maintaining chain of custody in conflict zones, and have developed processes to ensure the safety of documenters as well as the integrity of chain of custody and evidence storage so that it may be introduced into justice and accountability processes.
Our experts have been supporting and mentoring local actors in the Syrian conflict for more than seven years to advance accountability for torture and sexual violence (SV) cases. A training programme that began in 2013 with a group of doctors and lawyers who were new to medical documentation has evolved into a multifaceted program in which the original trainees are now documenting cases prolifically and in compliance with international standards.
The forensic medical reports documenting the torture and SV that is ongoing in Syria have been accepted by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria as well by European courts asserting extraterritorial jurisdiction. We continue to provide training and mentoring to lawyers as they build cases and provide evidence in cases of torture, sexual violence, and enforced disappearance, all with the aim of advancing accountability for the egregious crimes that have been committed with impunity.
Many survivors of arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, and sexual violence struggle upon return to their families and communities and are unable to access justice. Female former detainees and sexual violence survivors are stigmatized and have been particularly over-targeted and under-protected, facing physical, psychological, social, and legal harms. Few lawyers and investigators have been trained on or understand aspects of gendered justice for the adjudication of international crimes. Harmful gender norms, community attitudes, and stigma surrounding sexual violence and other gender-based crimes silence survivors, hide crimes such as male sexual violence, and have life-threatening consequences for survivors and their families.
Synergy for Justice trains local organizations on a gendered approach to avenues and forms of justice for survivors; barriers to accessing justice; survivor-centric, trauma-sensitive approaches; survivor rights; and survivor protection. Participants in our training sessions work together as partners to promote awareness and increase their knowledge of negative consequences and potential harm that occurs to survivors of sexual violence, torture, trafficking, or other traumatic human rights violations during the documentation process, accessing justice, and beyond. We also provide training regarding the special needs of child survivors to improve responses, protection, and access to justice.
Survivors need allies and advocates in their community to help bridge the divisions created by stigma and to overcome barriers to support, protection, and justice. Stigma can act as a barrier for survivors to speak about their experiences and can have a devastating long-term impact on how they recover from the trauma of their experiences and obtain justice. Synergy for Justice supports local partners to tackle stigma and its impact head-on to ensure better community responses around survivor protection, support, reintegration, and access to justice. This involves designing and developing programmes to map, understand, and address the challenges presented by the stigma of torture, sexual violence, trafficking, and other ill treatment.
Vulnerable and marginalized people around the world struggle to access basic rights, including rights to assemble and speak freely; access justice, education healthcare, and protection; and to be free from violence, arbitrary arrest, detention, torture, and sexual violence. Synergy for Justice empowers people to exercise and enforce their fundamental rights, access justice, challenge discrimination, hold government accountable, and obtain remedies and services in accordance with human rights principles and standards. Supporting and empowering people whose voices would otherwise be unheard improves their ability to overcome the legal, institutional, cultural, economic, and psychological barriers that limit their ability to participate fully and equally in society. Raising the voices of the affected people to demand rights in their own words and on their own terms is the critical component that is sometimes missing from advocacy that occurs on behalf of people but does not fully incorporate them.
We support and strengthen initiatives driven by local people in ways that align with their needs and values, including through anti-stigma workshops; advocacy support; messaging development; capacity building of civil society and government actors; awareness raising; strategy development; strategic litigation; safety and security training; psychosocial support; awareness-raising; trial monitoring; protection monitoring; support for legal reform; and more.
Trafficking in persons is both a crime and a grave human rights violation that occurs in every country around the world. It deprives people of basic human rights, breaks down the social fabric of communities, increases global health risks, fuels growth of organized crime and unlawful militias, and impedes economic development. Anyone can be a victim of trafficking, but there are some common factors: they are often vulnerable and marginalized people; unaware of their rights; may not speak the local language and know the local culture; far from family, friends, and community; often lacking documentation; and in need of protection initiatives, including access to justice. Risks and vulnerabilities associated with trafficking are heightened in crisis situations, where rule of law has been eroded, allowing for perpetrators to operate with impunity; livelihoods lost, rendering people desperate for cash to support family; people are on the move to safety, losing touch with support networks; state functions to provide social safety net are diminished; and demand for exploitative services associated with labour and sex are increased.
Compared to the scale of trafficking around the world, very few perpetrators are brought to justice, highlighting the need to advance accountability. While trafficking affects people across the gender spectrum, there are gendered aspects, often rendering women and girls more vulnerable to harmful sexual exploitation and men and boys to dangerous labor exploitation. Furthermore, women and girls are often more vulnerable to trafficking as a result of discriminatory gender norms and lack of socioeconomic opportunities. And at the most basic level, trafficking is a grave human rights violation that often results in enslavement, severe violence, and even death.