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Simon-Skjodt Center Director Delivers Remarks on the Need for Accountability in Syria

Naomi Kikoler, director of the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide delivering remarks at the Embassy of France, April 26, 2022. US Holocaust Memorial Museum

The following remarks were delivered on April 26, 2022 by Naomi Kikoler, director of the Simon-­Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, at the Embassy of France’s screening of the film “Bringing Assad to Justice.” The documentary, made by Anne Daly and Ronan Tynan, was presented by the Embassy of France, in partnership with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Atlantic Council. 

Thank you Ambassador Etienne. It is an honor to partner with you, the Atlantic Council, and the filmmakers, Ronan and Anne. It is moving to be here with so many friends, survivors, champions from Congress, the administration, and diplomatic community.

When I spoke with Anne, I asked her what motivated them to make this film and she remarked, “We could not help but ask, what allowed this to happen and what can be done to help?” 

With that question in mind, today as we gather, there are tens of thousands of Syrians who are in detention. Enduring torture. Facing death. Hundreds of thousands of families yearn for any information about the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones. 

Over 150,000 people have been arbitrarily detained since 2011. Behind each number is a person: a young man, a pregnant woman, a student, a child. These are the most vulnerable, of the vulnerable, today in Syria.

Attacks targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure—in violation of international law—have been a hallmark of the Syria conflict. Today, those attacks continue with Syrian-Russian bombardments recently claiming the lives of children returning home from school in Idlib.

For 11 years the conflict has devastated a nation. A nation whose social fabric has been destroyed, and that continues to be governed by an individual who has perpetrated heinous crimes against humanity against his own people. Thus far, impunity has prevailed.

This is not a conflict or crisis that has ended. This is not the time to speak of normalization. Up until a few weeks ago, Syria had receded from the front pages of newspapers. But for the Syrian people, their suffering continues, there is no clear end in sight, and thus, the urgency of this gathering and this film is all too glaring. 

Since 2014, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has housed the heart-wrenching images in the Caesar file—images of men, women, and children subjected to unspeakable atrocities perpetrated by the Assad regime.

Our institution understands intimately the cost of indifference.

We are committed to educating the world about these crimes, highlighting the voices of remarkable Syrians who are heroically saving lives and working toward a better future for their country, informing policy discussions about civilian protection and atrocity response, and advancing the cause of accountability.

We have been clear in our assessment that many Syrians are still suffering the worst that the conflict has offered. This is particularly true for those who are held out of sight. We are deeply concerned that detention will persist for those living in areas under regime control. In the longer term, the fear of retaliatory detentions, particularly for activists and civil society leaders, will continue to prevent many Syrians from returning to areas now under Assad’s control.

Every Syrian man and woman that the Museum has partnered with or spoken to has expressed a sense of a need for justice—this film speaks to that plea and this is a moment to change that.

The film tonight is incredibly powerful, it is hard to watch the horrors that are unfolding in Syria but it needs to be seen. It is my honor to introduce the director of the film, Ronan Tynan.

Learn more about the Simon-Skjodt Center’s work on Syria.