The Violations Documentation Center in Syria (VDC) was established in June 2011 to ensure careful and independent documentation of all kinds of human rights violations in Syria. The goal was to become a reference not only for the media, but also for all future accountability and justice-related procedures for Syria.
By 2012, the number of arbitrary killings and other human rights violations, including imprisonment without trial and torture, had grown alarmingly fast, and the situation in Syria had escalated into an armed conflict (as per the ICRC’s legal qualification), with the applicability of the Geneva Conventions and customary International Humanitarian Law. These developments, alongside the Syrian government’s crackdown on those perceived to be reporting on the situation (journalists, bloggers, social media activists, etc.), prompted the VDC to expand its role and include the coverage of new systematic violations.
The VDC is one of the largest human rights organisations with staff members and contacts inside Syria, with a presence in all governorates and most cities. Its activists take great risks to document human rights and international humanitarian law violations committed by the Syrian government and other armed actors in the conflict. The VDC is a credible reference to legal and media practitioners because of its robust methodology and adherence to international legal standards regardless of the perpetrator. Its findings are often cited by international media, the UN and other justice-related mechanisms. The VDC is frequently called upon to provide in-depth briefings to world forums such as the United Nations Security Council.
While originally an offshoot of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), the VDC became 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 the night of December 9, 2013, a group of armed men stormed into the office of the VDC in Douma and abducted Razan Zaitouneh, the head of the VDC, and her colleagues – Wael Hamada (also her husband), Samira al-Khalil, and Nazem Hamadi. There has been no news of their whereabouts since.
The VDC’s staff continue to work under the guidance of a board of directors who have worked to ensure 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 appointed Mr. Husam Alkatlaby as an Executive Director, with the mandate of strategically guiding the VDC and running its daily operations.