July 25, 2021

Catherine Marchi-Uhel, the vigilante of crimes in Syria

By Isabelle Mayault

Posted at 01:38 yesterday, updated at 12:28 yesterday

Catherine Marchi-Uhel, at the Geneva UN headquarters, May 25, 2021.

At the headquarters of the United Nations (UN), in Geneva, the magistrate Catherine Marchi-Uhel receives in the winter garden of an opulent villa intended to welcome international delegations. “It changes from my container in Bosnia”, confides the one whose long diplomatic career has led to work, among others, in the Balkans, Rwanda and Cambodia.

This time, it is far from the country concerned that, since August 2017, the Frenchwoman has been leading the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism (MIII; in English, IIIM, pronounced “triple I, M”), responsible for facilitating investigations into most serious violations of international law committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011 and to help bring those responsible to justice.

It is an understatement to say that Catherine Marchi-Uhel expected nothing from the presidential election of May 26, where Bashar Al-Assad was running for a fourth term (the result of which, not disclosed at the time of writing, should not be no doubt), the second since the start of the war.

Read also In Syria, a presidential sham in a devastated country

Her agenda is judicial. Just a year ago, a historic trial was held at the High Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany: that of Eyad Al-Gharib, a former member of the Syrian intelligence services, and Anwar Raslan, a ex-colonel, both tried for crimes against humanity. This is in part thanks to the work of conservation and analysis of evidence carried out by the MIII. The first was sentenced at the end of February, making the German court the first in the world to deliver a verdict on the crimes committed by the regime of Bashar Al-Assad.

Two million files

To date, the team of around fifty people – investigators, analysts, lawyers and other evidence management specialists – headed by Catherine Marchi-Uhel has received more than a hundred requests for assistance from a dozen jurisdictions, mainly European. As the conflict passed ten years on the clock in March, this close international collaboration is beginning to bear fruit.

“The Mechanism is a facilitator of justice, analysis Catherine Marchi-Uhel. We are not called upon to dispense justice ourselves, we are not a court, and we cannot sue directly. On the other hand, we intervene in support of these bodies which have the capacity to prosecute. “

Read our report: From Aleppo to Damascus, lives in ruins

A sort of giant repository for all the documentation relating to the atrocities committed during the Syrian civil war, the Mechanism today brings together a database of two million files. Faced with the mass of existing videos, the team has also significantly increased its storage capacity. “There are more hours of films than hours of conflict”, summarizes the judge, who considers that the Syrian conflict is the most documented since the second world war.

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