The Violations Documentation Center in Syria VDC, was born in June 2011 to ensure a careful and independent documentation of all kinds of violations of human rights taking place in the country both in the past, present and future, with the goal of becoming a reference not only for the media but more importantly for all future accountability and justice-related procedures that will be much needed for Syria.By 2012 arbitrary killings and other acts of violations of human rights, including political arrests, violations committed against journalists, imprisonment without trial, travel ban, forced exile, deprivation of Syrian nationality, torture and killing, grew alarmingly fast, while the situation in Syria turned into an armed conflict (as per the ICRC’s legal qualification), thus with the applicability of the Geneva Conventions and customary International Humanitarian Law. As a result of this and of an aggressive campaign by the government to intimidate, harass, detain and crackdown on all those perceived to be reporting on the situation (journalists, bloggers, writers…) has prompted the VDC to expand and include the coverage of these new systematic violations.The VDC is one of the biggest organisation with staff members and contacts inside Syria, in most cities, relentlessly documenting human rights and humanitarian law abuses by the Government of Syria and by a number of the most prominent armed opposition groups. As such, the VDC is a credible reference to legal and media practitioners because of its standard sturdy methodology, its absolute adherence to legal standards when documented abuses, regardless of its perpetrator.Finds of the VDC are often cited in international media and UN and other justice-related mechanisms, and the VDC is often called upon to provide in-depth briefings to most world forums such as the United Nations Security Council.
While the VDC was originally an offshoot of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), it moved into being an independent entity after the SCM was raided by the Syrian security forces and 16 staff members including the head of the organisation, Mr. Mazen Darwish, were arrested.
On December 9, 2013, at about 10:40 p.m., a group of armed men stormed into the office of the Violations Documentation Center in Syria VDC in Douma and abducted Razan Zaitouneh, the head of the center, and her colleagues – Wael Hamada, who is also her husband, Samira al-Khalil, and Nazem Hamadi. The four VDC human rights defenders have not been heard of since.
Despite this tragic disappearance, the VDC’s staff (circa 35 people) continued working unabated, under the guidance of a board of directors that ensured the institutionalisation of the VDC by: 1. Registering it as a non-profit association in Switzerland, 2. Liaising with donors to ensure funding, 3. Drafting and adopting internal regulations to effectively set working modalities and standards for monitoring and reporting on the work itself.
In December 2015, the VDC’s board of directors recruited Mr. Husam Alkatlaby as a Chief Executive Director in charge of strategically guiding the VDC and running its daily operations.
Methodology-Collecting, Validating and documenting Data:
As for the violations, what we consider to be a violation is based on what IHL, HRL, and Geneva conventions count as violations, including, but not limited to, attacks against civilian infrastructures, civilians themselves, humanitarian and aid facilities and services, etc.
In VDC, we document violations from all sides and regardless of the perpetrator, ethnicity, or any other belongings across all Syria. We document all the information including the perpetrator and only distinguish between civilians and non-civilians in addition to the area, date, means of death, the violation, and other statistical characteristics of the victims and the violations.
Lastly, because we document in this strict way, publishing is sometimes delayed, and in other cases, numbers are less than what is published by similar sister organizations due to the time needed to get the full names and other data as mentioned before.
Stages of data documentation:
The Violation Documentation Center in Syria adopts a multiple-stage process of documentation in order to achieve the highest accuracy possible amid the difficult complicated circumstances we have been going through in Syria since March 2011.
1-The first stage: gathering and documenting information by the data collectors, a group of human rights and field activists and reporters assigned by the center in different places. In addition, we collect data from other reliable sources such as field hospitals, cemeteries, casualties’ families and some of the media centers. Once data credibility is established and filled in special forms. They are sent to the database administrative team, which in turn they look for overlapped information.
2-The second stage: In this stage videos, images, and any other information related to the victims are gathered in the next few days after the incidents. Then these are presented to data inspectors, data inspectors are team each specialized in a Syrian province. This process ensures the data accuracy, correctness, and completeness before the data is entered into the database.
3-The third stage: This stage is for follow up and update, and it happens on a daily and monthly basis for the data entered in the database. The information is sent to the field activists again to ensure that it is free of errors and complete. Additionally, add any newly available materials such as photos, videos or information on the person; career, mother’s name, age, etc. This task is carried out by data collectors and data inspectors. Both work on collecting complete lists of information on casualties in different cities and villages to be compared with information that the center already has to verify the violation and its perpetrator. On a parallel line, the database executive team regularly inspects the database to minimize human errors as much as possible while logging the data.
These three stages are essential and important, however, we –by no means- consider them as a complete mission due to the complexities of the Syrian situation, the siege imposed on the areas and what the bad security situation the activists are living, in addition to the separation of the Syrian cities and villages, the fear of the victims’ families of providing us with more details because of security threats, and the cut-out of electricity and internet connection in most of liberated areas.
VDC’s Legal and managerial framework:
VDC is registered as a non-profit organization in Switzerland, and has a team of 35; most are in Syria distributed in the main conflict areas and front lines while others are outside and in neighboring countries. Additionally, VDC has a board of 5 members who oversees VDC’s strategic direction and work closely with the executive director who oversees the daily operations in the center.
General Coordinator of The Violations Documentation Center in Syria (VDC):
For general inquiries, get in touch on: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alternatively you can contact us on the following:
For any inquiries regarding the data: email@example.com
Media and Spokesperson: firstname.lastname@example.org
Executive Director: Husam Alkatlaby, email@example.com