On February 11, the Center for the Middle East and Islamic Studies (CMEIS) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill hosted a public talk on peace and justice in Syria. The event featured Mohammad Al Abdallah, Executive Director of the Syria and Justice Accountability Center (SAJC), based in Washington, D.C. The presentation highlighted his experiences growing up in Syria, human rights violations in the war-torn country, attempts at peace negotiations in Geneva, and the role of the United States and other countries in the conflict.
Al Abdallah shared that he grew up in Syria, where he was imprisoned twice for speaking out against the government. He fled to Lebanon, where he earned a law degree and began working for Human Rights Watch covering Syria. He later sought asylum in the United States, first arriving in Oklahoma, where he studied English. He then moved to Washington D.C., earning a Master’s in public policy and founding the SAJC.
SAJC works in four sectors related to the Syrian conflict: documentation, analysis, justice, and accountability. As United Nations observers are often denied access to conflict zones in Syria, SAJC gathers data from online sources and from civil society organizations in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, cross-referencing roughly 900,000 videos to track fatalities, the origin of rockets and missiles, and locations that have been targeted during the war. The SAJC takes no sides in the conflict and is “not focused on criminal prosecution,” Al Abdallah stated. “We are looking to serve transitional justice purposes for the country.”
Following the presentation, there was a lively question and answer period from an eager audience that hoped to learn more about the conditions that led to the Syrian conflict, the influence of proxy wars and terrorist organizations, the role of outside forces in the conflict, and speculations on how the country would rebuild. Al Abdullah stressed the importance of institutions to effect peace in Syria: “Institutional reforms are more important than anything else to ensure non-reoccurrence and establish trust in Syrian society again.”
Organized by the Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies, this event was co-sponsored by the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle Studies; College of Arts & Sciences; Curriculum in Peace, War and Defense; Curriculum in Global Studies; Center for Global Initiatives; and Triangle Institute for Security Studies.
Stephanie Jeselson, ‘20