Bassam Alahmad is a Syrian human rights defender and the Co-Founder and current Executive Director of Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ), an organization concerned with documenting human rights violations throughout Syria.

He has worked as a consultant with the International Federation of Human Rights, as well as at the Violations Documentation Center (VDC) in Syria, one of the first centers to document human rights violations in Syria after the uprising broke out in 2011, operating as a project of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression.

Civic space in Syria is closed, and among the concerns raised by human rights organizations is Syrian authorities being accused of arbitrary arrests and detentions of activists. In February 2024, the UN Human Rights Office released a report highlighting gross human rights violations suffered by Syrian returnees.

Here Alahmad shares why he became a human rights defender, and the importance of documentation of human rights abuses so justice can be pursued.

My name is Bassam Alahmad and I am a Syrian human rights defender. I started working in the field of human rights in 2005, beginning in my hometown of al-Qmishli, which is in far northeast Syria.

My work began with a special focus on the issue of the Kurdish minority, particularly the cause of the stateless Kurds in Syria. Kurdish people, like myself, became stateless as a result of the 1962 census that resulted in thousands of Kurdish people losing their Syrian nationality.

This issue was important because we were a stateless Kurdish family, and among tens of thousands of other stateless Kurdish people with no rights in our country. This pushed me to be an activist for the Kurdish cause. I graduated from Damascus University, where I studied Arabic literature. University was the trigger that helped me get involved in the public oppositionist activities against the Syrian government back then, along with dozens of anti-government young people from different walks of life.

I realized at university that the human rights issues in the country included Kurdish people, but were not limited to Kurdish people.

Working with the Violations Documentation Center (VDC), from 2012 to 2016, was a chance to gain new skills in the field of human rights violations in Syria, given the hundreds of thousands of crimes and violations that accompanied the bloodthirsty conflict.

I served as the VDC’s spokesperson and its Director of Research and Reports Department. In 2015, I joined a US-funded fellowship with the Maxwell School at Syracuse University in New York City, as a part of a program called Leaders for Democracy. This was the opportunity that first sparked the idea of what it is today Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ).

I trained both Syrian individuals and groups on evidence collection and issues related to documentation of human rights violations, after which I underwent a series of specialized trainings as a part of a program intended to boost Syrian activists’ capabilities, held by the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN), Palestinian NGO AL-HAQ, and Amnesty International.

Currently based in France and run by me, STJ is one of the organizations that documents human rights violations throughout Syria, covering all sides to the conflict. It also actively bridges the gaps related to human rights violations’ documentation processes, hoping to come up with a single Syrian narrative that addresses all violations regardless of who the perpetrators are.

The main focus of my work is around the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 16, which is about promoting peace, justice, and strong institutions, and our next project will carry the same name.

As a formerly stateless Kurdish person and a former detainee, being stateless is a terrible situation which I wouldn’t wish on anyone. We have thousands of stories of young people who had dreams of being teachers or going to university, but [being stateless] you don’t know the future and there is no hope.

Statelessness kills your dreams and the hope inside you. I was a human rights activist before 2011, this led me to participate in many initiatives, but also to start my project under the name of Syrians for Truth and Justice.

In 2012 I was arrested because of my activism work at the VDC, and I spent almost three months in prison, including being taken to an air base where we were questioned by air force intelligence and the military police, and unfortunately we were also tortured and beaten. I was maybe lucky because I was released after three months, and some of my colleagues spent more than a year, and others more than three years, in detention. It was a truly awful experience honestly. Even though we had been released, we were still attending military court, and I didn’t know what would happen (with the process) and that’s why I decided to leave Syria and go to Turkey in late 2012. I am currently a refugee in France and I cannot return to Syria, not only because of the political situation, but also because I have refugee status in France and in France you cannot go back to your homeland (as a refugee).

STJ started as an idea while attending the US Middle-East Partnership Initiative‘s (MEPI) Leaders for Democracy Fellowship program in 2015. The idea became a reality and flourished into an independent, non-profit, impartial, non-governmental human rights organization.

STJ’s beginnings were more than humble; initially, we only reported stories of Syrians who experienced arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance, or torture. Planted in fertile soil, the seed of this project grew into an established human rights organization licensed in the Middle East and the European Union. STJ today undertakes to detect and uncover violations of all types committed in all Syrian parts by the various parties to the conflict.

Convinced that Syria’s diversity is a wealth, our researchers and volunteers serve with unfailing dedication to monitor, expose, and document human rights violations that continue unabated in Syria since 2011, regardless of the affiliation of the victims or perpetrators.

Adopting an inclusive and unbiased documentation process, STJ aims to promote the principle of inclusion and ensure the organization is a forum where all Syrians have a space and an opportunity to express and exchange thoughts on the basis of equal citizenship.

Our main goal has always been to ensure that everyone enjoys their full rights without any discrimination as to sex, color, caste, religion, ethnicity, geographical region, or other considerations. Since its legal establishment in 2016, STJ managed to reach thousands of victims, document thousands of violations, and register them in a private database. We have also published hundreds of reports on the human rights situation in Syria since then.

We believe that systematic documentation and gathering credible evidence allow us to reach new horizons in justice and accountability spaces. With this, we can contribute to strategic litigation and fight against impunity autonomously or in cooperation with appropriate bodies and organizations.

The most important changes for Syria include the creation and promotion of a peaceful society, inclusive and equal citizenship, [and a society that is] democratic with strong institutions. I also want Global Citizens around the world to mainly know that the ongoing peace process and constitutional processes (coming out of a UN Security Council resolution) are not inclusive, and that foreign powers, including Russia, Turkey, and Iran, are controlling this process.

Before we were facing injustice by the Syrian government and now we are facing injustice by the United Nations, because Kurds are not fully represented in the political and constitutional process. We need all Syrian people, including women, civil society, even people with whom we don’t agree politically, to be a real part of this process.

This lack of openness is part of the reason that the main challenge we are facing is politicization. We want a political solution but not a political solution that will further divide us. We need equal attention to all violations by all parties, however this is not the case so far. We need the peace and justice process to include all and not leave anyone behind so we can all write our future.

Anyone looking to get in touch with STJ to explore opportunities for donations, collaborations or media opportunities can email Bassam on

As told to Gugulethu Mhlungul; the article has been lightly edited for clarity.

The 2024-2025 In My Own Words Series was made possible thanks to funding from the Ford Foundation.

In My Own Words

Demand Equity

I Know What It Means to Be Stateless, So I Work Towards Peace for All in Syria

By Bassam Alahmad