Interview with Anwar al-Bunni

By Morgane Afnaim

Morgane holds a Master degree in Human Rights and Multi-level Governance from the University of Padova with a focus on the Middle East and North Africa area – with in depth studies on Palestine and Syria –, humanitarian law, and detention matters/rights.

Please watch the interview at the link:

Anwar al-Bunni and Morgane Afnaim

ANWAR AL-BUNNI is an influential and authoritative Syrian lawyer and human rights defender. He is well-known and deeply trusted within the Syrian exile communities as well as within the transnational network of actors committed to Syrian matters. 

Al-Bunni is one of the founders of the Syrian Human Rights Association and, as a lawyer, in Syria, he was particularly committed to defending civil society’s activists, who were systematically persecuted, imprisoned, and tortured for expressing their ideas through peaceful demonstrations and nonviolent actions, especially in the wave of the 2001 Damascus Spring repression. The lawyer started to defend political prisoners in 1986, and until he was in Syria, despite challenges and risks carried from this activity, he never stopped carrying on such a job. For this reason, he – and his family members – have repeatedly been the target of repressive measures, including the disbarment from the Damascus Bar Association. Moreover, in 2006, after having signed the so-called Damascus-Beirut Declaration, together with a number of human rights activists, the lawyer was arrested and charged with “dissemination of false information which could harm the morale of the nation.” After a trial he was found guilty and, thus, sentenced to five years of detention. In addition, al-Bunni’s human rights training center was closed. The outstanding lawyer has therefore spent various years in the Adra detention center, in the Damascus area, where he reported to have systematically been subjected to abuses and tortures from the prison’s staff. In 2014, after his release, notwithstanding his willingness “to stay in Syria as long as possible to defend the increasing number of political prisoners” – as he stated during an interview with the author – he was forced to leave the country because of the increasing threats he was receiving. Once established in Germany, the lawyer founded the Syrian Center for Legal Studies and Research  [LS – center], which aims at collecting information about high-ranking Syrian officials in order to start criminal cases against them and at developing researches and trainings regarding the justice process of Syria. Although in Germany he does not have the license to practice as a lawyer, al-Bunni has started to cooperate with the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights [ECCHR] in order to prepare a strong case file, to assist and support Syrian survivors and mediating between German prosecution offices and the Syrian exile community. As many Syrian tortures’ witnesses and survivors personally know him from Syria, the lawyer has been able to encourage them to actively participate in the Al-Khatib Trial, managing to gather a strong group of plaintiffs and witnesses.

The Detention TimeAnwar al-Bunni has reported – over the course of an interview with the author – that during the long detention time, he “tried to make the best of [his] time [there].” Therefore, he “started working out and devised plans for Syria’s political future, that later, [once released], [he] wrote down and published.” Particularly, he based such a state-building project for the future of Syria on four drafts: a set of transitional provisions (2017), a new Constitution (2005) and its fundamental principles (2019), and a document regulating political parties (2007). 

Thus, the following interview with the lawyer will tackle some relevant points of the Syrian case. Particularly, starting from the meaning and impact of the ongoing Al-Khatib Trial, other significant issues will be discussed. In the first instance, the abovementioned trial, based on universal jurisdiction and addressing core international crimes committed in Syria, represents a ground-breaking proceeding as it appears as the last resort for accountability for the vast amount of crimes that have been committed in Syria in the last ten years. Indeed, given the deadlock situation at the international level, both the General Assembly of the United Nations [UNGA] and the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic [CoI] have expressly called upon states to use universal jurisdiction to fill the huge gap of impunity covering Syrian most severe crimes and perpetrators. Anyhow, such a trial carries both challenges and strengths, that will be investigated with the lawyer over the course of the interview. 

Going on, the conversation will deal with the need of a victim-focused and victim-oriented transitional justice processwhich – based on a combination of criminal accountability measures and on a set or reparatory justice measures – could pave the way to a successful and inclusive constitution-making process for the future of Syria. Therefore, the interview will close with the lawyer’s vision regarding future perspectives of constitution making in Syria. Specifically, al-Bunni will call attention to the hypothetical state building project for Syria he laid down, aimed at achieving a representative democracy for Syria and based on the respect of individual fundamental human rights and on citizens’ political participation in the country’s government

Concluding, regarding his work, Anwar al-Bunni stated that “as a human rights defender it is not the repression, imprisonment, and torture that we have suffered that counts, but what we have seen and documented. The crimes against humanity, the war crimes committed and still being committed while the world looks on.”

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