The Syrian Emergency Task Force advocates for the Syrian people and to bring an end to the killing of innocent civilians in Syria.

Our team meets regularly with Members of Congress and their staff for briefings on the latest developments on the ground in Syria, as well as on other relevant aspects of domestic and foreign policy, and to draft and pass relevant legislation. In Congress, we periodically organize, by working with the leadership of the relevant Committees, hearings in which first-hand witnesses, such as Caesar and the Gravedigger, are able to publicly address large groups of Members and recount their experiences. We work with Senators and Representatives from both sides of the aisle in equal measure, and our team has been one of the driving forces behind the bipartisan Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2019. We also regularly engage with other branches of the US government, UN bodies, agencies and missions, European governments, and other relevant stakeholders. 

By publishing reports and one-pagers, we provide accounts of the situation on the ground in Syria and of the conduct of the Assad regimes and its allies, Russia and Iran. We also analyze how different circumstances might affect the situation on the ground and the interests of the US and its allies. 

Part of our advocacy work consists of building trusting relationships with officials and their staff in order to be as effective as possible. To this end, we facilitate visits to both the Turkey-Syria and the Jordan-Syria border for bipartisan congressional delegations. In this context, our team ensures that the delegations are able to meet with refugees, aid workers, civil leaders and organizations that are active on the ground. 

Finally, by organizing advocacy events such as Caesar exhibits, policy roundtables and panels in cities all over the world, we are able to reach the general public and create grassroots movements to complement our more direct advocacy efforts.

Congressional Engagement

Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act

In 2014, SETF facilitated a hearing with a former military photographer and defector “Caesar” at the House of Foreign Affairs Committee. The Caesar File, which includes 55,000 photos of civilians who died of torture while in military detention, thus revealing the brutality of the regime against the Syrian people, was presented as evidence alongside his testimony. Signed into law in December 2019, the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act came about partly as a response to this irrefutable proof of the regime’s commission of war crimes. The Act introduced sanctions against the Syrian government of Bashar Al Assad, a number of Syrian industries, and any entities or persons that provide financial support to the regime. It aims to hold the regime, its allies Iran and Russia, as well as all those aiding their efforts, accountable for the crimes they commit. It also seeks to obstruct their ability to continue these atrocities and regain effective control of the country without facing repercussions for their crimes.

Learn more about the Caesar Law

SETF remains the custodian of the Caesar Photos and has brought exhibitions around the world to highlight the ongoing atrocities.

Gravedigger Testimony - Senate Foreign Relations Committee

The Gravedigger is a key witness from the Koblenz trial who provided evidence regarding the regime’s continued torture and killing of Syrian civilians in large numbers which he observed first-hand due to his assigned responsibility to oversee the digging of mass graves to dispose of their bodies coming from detention centers. SETF assisted in bringing the Gravedigger to the United States where he met with the FBI; Amb. Barbara Leaf and Zehra Bell at NSC; Deputy Assistant Secretaries Bureau Ethan Goldrich (NEA) and Christopher Le Mon (DRL), The Syria Desk, The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Affairs (DRL), and The Office of Global Criminal Justice (GCJ) at the State Department; the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. On June 8th 2022, he testified in front of the SFRC where he shared the horrors he had witnessed with its members and urged them to take urgent action.

Ukraine Invasion War Crimes Deterrence and Accountability Act

SETF worked with Scott Gilmore, Gissou Nia, and Sen. Durbin’s office on the new War Crimes Act draft, which expands Rep. Durbin’s 2009 bill and codifies war crimes and crimes against humanity within existing definitions, while adding some new ones. SETF connected Ambassador Stephen Rapp with Rep. Durbin’s staff in order to coordinate the bill’s content. The Act requires the President to report to Congress about the efforts of the US government to collect, analyze, and preserve evidence regarding war crimes and atrocities committed during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to promote the pursuit of accountability for such crimes in Ukraine and around the world. 

The Captagon Bill

The “Countering Assad’s Proliferation, Trafficking, and Garnering of Narcotics (CAPTAGON)” Act (H.R. 6265) was introduced in the House of Representatives in December 2021. The bill, which is co-sponsored by Representatives French Hill (AR-02) and Brendan Boyle (PA-02), aims to disrupt and dismantle narcotics production and trafficking and affiliated networks linked to the Bashar al-Assad regime. The bill was passed on September 20, 2022.


UNSC Arria Formula Meeting - November 29, 2021

On November 29th 2021, at the UN Headquarters in New York, SETF was honored to participate in the The United Nations Security Council Arria-formula meeting on Accountability in the Syrian Arab Republic. Many representatives, including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Switzerland, and Australia supported the international community’s efforts to document war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria. SETF team member and former detainee, Omar Alshogre served as one of the four civil society representatives who testified in front of the Council.

Watch his opening and closing statements or the full session

United Nations Security Council briefing - June 29, 2022

Omar Alshogre testified at the 9083rd session of the United Nations Security Council on the 29th of June 2022, urging all members to take action against the Assad regime’s heinous human rights violations and stand with the Syrian people fighting for freedom and justice.

Watch his statement and the full session

United Nations General Assembly - September 2022

During the opening session of the 77th UN General Assembly, the U.S. State Department’s Global Criminal Justice office organized a side event called “Safeguarding Victims and Witnesses in Atrocity Crime Trials: A Call to Courts and Governments” which focused on the reprisals that witnesses of war crimes and crimes against humanity have to face as a result of their contributions to prosecution efforts. A video message by the Gravedigger was broadcasted during the event. The importance of adequate procedures for witness protection was discussed along with the need to establish a network whereby countries could exchange best practices for universal jurisdiction legal procedures.

Other Initiatives and Activities
Syria Ukraine Network (SUN)

SETF is one of the founding members of the Syria Ukraine Network (SUN) with Olga Lautman as coordinator and multiple Syrian and Ukrainian organizations. Since it was established in the wake of Russia’s newest invasion of Ukraine, SUN has been constantly present on social media and in the media, it has organized a Congressional briefing, and it has facilitated the delivery of medical aid and the presence of war crimes documentation experts in Ukraine.


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