NEW ILAC REPORT: The Syrian Justice System – Six Years On

Stockholm, Sweden — The International Legal Assistance Consortium (ILAC) today released a new report that explains how justice is administered throughout Syria after six years of conflict. ILAC’s Rule of Law Assessment Report, Syria 2017  provides a baseline for future reconciliation efforts with a comprehensive, publicly available account of the current state of the Syrian justice sector.

“In planning for peace, Syria and the international community will need to base their actions in rebuilding the justice system on what presently exists in Syria today,” said Agneta Johansson, ILAC’s Executive Director and mission leader.  “The breakdown in the government’s control throughout large parts of Syria has led to differences in how justice is administered across the country.  Reinstating a unified system of justice that can uphold the rule of law and provide due process will be a major challenge facing Syria after the war.”

In November and December 2016, ILAC’s nine-person assessment team met with over 100 Syrian legal professionals, civil society actors and international officials. Among those interviewed were approximately 70 Syrian judges and lawyers, who included both those currently practicing law in different parts of Syria, and those who have been forced to flee to neighboring countries due to the conflict.

The team examined the justice sector as it stood before the uprisings in 2011 and used this as a starting point for a comparison of the situation today throughout the country.  

“All over Syria, judges and lawyers work tirelessly to bring justice and stability to their communities in the face of extreme challenges,” said Mikael Ekman, ILAC’s senior legal advisor and report writer.  “ILAC’s report looks at the justice sectors in the different areas and explains the similarities and differences between those systems. The hope is to not repeat mistakes from other post-conflict situations, where working justice sector institutions have been dismantled, and new, weaker institutions put in their place.”

Two key findings from the report include:

  • Interviews with those from and working in non-government controlled areas revealed that virtually all armed groups involved in the conflict recognize, and in fact embrace the concept of courts or similar structures to settle disputes, provide justice, and handle routine administrative tasks; and
  • Legal professionals in all of Syria share a pride in their profession. Judges and lawyers living on either side of frontlines universally express their deep respect for colleagues on the other side, maintaining that they simply try to do their best to achieve fairness in an unfair system.

“The report also outlines conflict related justice issues including the millions of displaced and the hundreds of thousands missing persons,” said Ekman. “Questions about justice will almost certainly destabilize the peace process if they are not addressed, especially given the high number of victims on all sides.”

Based on these findings, the report makes several recommendations on how to strengthen the rule of law in Syria now and for the peace process.

“These recommendations are founded in ILAC’s unwavering commitment to the rule of law even in the most difficult circumstances,” concluded Johansson. “Specifically, the report explains how lawyers and judges may become engines for reform within Syria.  The legal profession in Syria has a history of resistance to government overreach, and ILAC outlines how the international community can support the profession now and in the future.”

The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency funded ILAC’s report and mission.

Founded in 2002, ILAC is an international Consortium that brings together 50 professional associations and legal professionals from all over the world to share their expertise with national stakeholders who are rebuilding their justice institutions after conflict.

For more information or to speak with Agneta Johansson or Mikael Ekman, email Quinn O’Keefe at

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