Many war crimes documented in Syria, says specialist

Volume of digital recordings opens ‘many possibilities’, Thomas Pierret tells Dublin audience

Dr Thomas Pierret: amount of digital film from Syria war makes it unique, he told Griffith College students. Photograph: Peter Murtagh

Dr Thomas Pierret: amount of digital film from Syria war makes it unique, he told Griffith College students. Photograph: Peter Murtagh


The civil war in Syria was unique in that it was the first war documented on film en masse by combat

ants and by civilians, an academic who specialises in the region asserted yesterday.

Dr Thomas Pierret of the University of Edinburgh faculty of Islamic and middle eastern studies told journalism students in Griffith College Dublin that in the coming decades, the war in Syria would be seen as something “entirely new” because of the abundance of video material from digital cameras and smart phones.

“No country in history has generated such a massive amount of video documentation. It is absolutely huge,” he told the students before addressing a meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs. He said the volume of digital recordings “open many possibilities”.

“It is very important for documenting war crimes. There is lots of footage of regime planes bombing civilian areas; we have fighters on both sides, let’s be honest, very predominately on the side of the regime, filming their own war crimes, filming summary executions, torture and all that.”

Dr Pierret said that while his preference was for a diplomatic solution to the conflict, which according to UN and other sources has claimed between 104,000 and 150,000 lives and displaced some nine million people, both internally and into neighbouring countries, outside military intervention was necessary. This should include, in his view, the enforcement of a no-fly zone to prevent regime attacks on civilians, and arming the opposition. The war was “essentially a domestic conflict that is about power sharing”. As long as the power imbalance within the country was not fixed,you will “have a conflict inside the country”, he said.

No incentive
This domestic conflict was far more intractable than any regional power struggle. The regime was in control and therefore had no incentive to compromise. He said the regime was preparing the re-election of President Bashir al-Assad – it will actually be a no-contest election – because what they have in mind is to keep themselves in power. Keeping themselves in power is not a compromise it is a total victory for the regime.

Among the audience at Griffith College were several people with strong family connections to Syria. One woman, who requested that her name not be published, lamented the lack of long-term interest in the war in foreign countries, including Ireland. The results of the war were “unimaginable”, she said. “When you see the pictures of dead children, massacred, you are left speechless, lost for words . . . The inaction of the world is feeding extremism. People are waiting for the world to do something.”