Violations Documentation Center in Syria

The Violations Documentation Center in Syria (VDC, Arabic: مركز توثيق الانتهاكات في سوريا) is a network of Syrian opposition activists whose aim is to document human rights violations perpetrated since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War, including victims of the violence, detainees, and missing people. The organization works with the activists from the Local Coordination Committees of Syria,[3] and documents identified victims of the violence[4] from the rebels and the civilians.[3] The stated purpose of the organization is to provide an independent documentation of human rights violations within Syria, a resource that may help any future justice-related procedures.[5] The center's main sources of information include medical records, families of the victims and information received from the Imam of the mosque that performed the burial.[6]

Violations Documentation Center in Syria
مركز توثيق الانتهاكات في سوريا
PredecessorSyrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression[1]
FormationApril 2011
FounderRazan Zaitouneh
TypeMedia activist organization
Legal statusActive
PurposeDocumentation of human rights in Syria
Official language
Arabic, English, French
Husam al-Katlaby[1][2]
AffiliationsLocal Coordination Committees of Syria

The VDC was founded by Razan Zaitouneh, a Syrian lawyer and human rights activist, and Mazen Darwish, a Syrian lawyer and free speech advocate, in June 2011. It was originally a part of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), but became its own entity after the SCM was raided and disbanded.[5][7]

VDC is a non-profit, non-governmental organisation.[8] Its VDC's main headquarters are located in the city of Douma. It is registered in Switzerland.[9] the VDC has a team of about 30–35 investigators and a ground network covering every governorate of Syria, consisting of more than 30 internationally trained field reporters.[8] The VDC reports its findings to the United Nations Security Council.[5] The VDC updates its statistics on a yearly, monthly, and weekly basis.

Attacks on the VDC

On 9 December 2013, VDC's office in Douma was raided by masked gunmen, who abducted four VDC members[10]: Razan Zaitouneh, Samira al-Khalil, Nazem Hamadi, and Wael Hamada,[11] who came to be known as "the Douma Four".[12] The Army of Islam was suspected of being responsible for the attack.[13] The VDC was attacked again on 22 July 2016 and 13 August 2017 by Jaysh al-Islam. Since the abduction, VDC has been led by a group of administrators inside and outside of Syria (initially in Turkey and then Switzerland) and two database managers.[8] As of August 2018, Associated Press found no strong evidence regarding Zaitouneh's fate, but suspected that she had been killed around 2017 or later.[14]


The VDC applies international standards for documentation of human rights violations.[8] It has a three-stage methodology as to how they document data: (1) initial information on one or more victims is gathered, mainly from hospitals, morgues, relatives of the victims, and media sources; (2) the initial report is confirmed; (3) data on the victims is added to complete the record.[8]

According to Yale and Harvard medical scholars writing in The Lancet, it is characterised by "careful methods, adherence to international norms of human rights documentation, recording of combatant status and rank, documentation of cause of death and particular weapons involved, geographical scope, and explicit attention to the limitations of the data". The scholars also note its key limitation: that it is not able to report on violations in government-held territories or among pro-government troops, and also that "The observation method used by the VDC researchers could result in an underestimate of casualties, particularly among collapsed structures and rubble created by heavy bombardment and shelling."[15]


The VDC only accepts funding from independent, unbiased, or neutral entities.[8]


  1. "The Violations Documentation Center in Syria VDC". Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression. 25 February 2017.
  2. Cristina Roca Long Read: How the Syrian War Changed How War Crimes Are Documented, Syria Deeply 1 June 2017
  3. "BBC News - Syria: The story of the conflict". BBC News. 30 August 2012. Retrieved 16 September 2012.
  4. Sly, Liz (24 August 2012). "Gruesome killings mark escalation of violence in Syrian capital". The Washington Post. Retrieved 16 September 2012.
  5. "About us - VDC". VDC. Retrieved 2017-11-30.
  6. "Report of the independent international commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic" (PDF). United Nations Human Rights Council. 22 February 2012. p. 11. Retrieved 16 September 2012.
  7. Syrian Women Raise the Slogan “Human Rights First”, Ennab Baladi, 9/12/2017
  8. Debarati Guha-Sapir, Benjamin Schlüter, Jose Manuel Rodriguez-Llanes, Louis Lillywhite, Madelyn Hsiao-Rei Hicks, Patterns of civilian and child deaths due to war-related violence in Syria: a comparative analysis from the Violation Documentation Center dataset, 2011–16, The Lancet Global Health, Volume 6, Issue 1, January 2018, Pages e103-e110
  9. "The Violations Documentation Center in Syria". 29 November 2017.
  10. "New Attack on the VDC office in Duma - VDC". VDC. 2017-08-13. Retrieved 2017-11-29.
  11. "Non-Violent Activist Razan Zaitouneh Kidnapped in Syria". Global Voices Online. 13 December 2013.
  12. Human Rights Watch Syria: No Word on 4 Abducted Activists - A Year on, No Information on Douma 4, 9 December 2014
  13. Pizzi, Michael (2014-02-04). "The Syrian Opposition Is Disappearing From Facebook". The Atlantic. Retrieved 8 February 2014.
  14. Mroue, Bassem (2018-08-13). "Clues But No Answers in One of Syrian War's Biggest Mysteries". Bloomberg News/AP. Archived from the original on 2019-05-01. Retrieved 2019-05-01.
  15. Hani Mowafi, Jennifer Leaning Documenting deaths in the Syrian war The Lancet Global Health, Volume 6, Issue 1, January 2018, Pages e14-e15
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