A nonprofit leader who uncovered injustices in Syria with powerful investigations was killed in the February 6 earthquake in Turkey with his family, the organization said Sunday.
“It is with the deepest sorrow that we announce the death of our Deputy Chief of the Syria Investigations Unit, Mustafa, and his family,” the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA) said in a statement.
“Mustafa, his wife Rola, their beautiful children Tala, Hanin, Mays and Omar all perished in the devastating earthquake that struck North-Western Syria and Turkey on 06 February 2023,” the statement said.
“Mustafa was from Ar Rastan, Homs which is where his investigative journey began. A trained lawyer, he was a highly skilled international crimes investigator who secured enormous troves of evidence inside Syria,” the statement said.
“Over the last twelve years he has made invaluable contributions to the quest for truth and justice about atrocities against the Syrian people. Not least to the case of (Marie) Colvin v Syrian Arab Republic, which established the truth about the brutal campaign of sniping and shelling of the people of Homs in 2012,” the statement added.
CIJA Director for Management and External Relations Nerma Jelacic said she met with Mustafa in Turkey last week “to plan a new future for his family, a future in which his enormous work on Syria investigations would be publicly recognized.”
“He has done so much ... He was a great investigator but his soul never hardened through the years. He remained the softest, friendliest person you could imagine,” Jelacic told CNN.
Powerful work: Mustafa and his team, sometimes known as the “document hunters,” have worked to hold Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime accountable for heinous crimes. Syrian officials have repeatedly denied allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity, insisting that they target terrorists and not peaceful protesters.
The team, trained by former war crimes investigators and lawyers, smuggled hundreds of thousands of government documents out of war zones. Often sprinting past explosions and sniper fire to bring the papers to safety, they risk their lives to help hold the perpetrators of war crimes accountable.
CNN was granted access in 2019 by CIJA to witness firsthand how over 800,000 pages of regime documents have been smuggled out of Syria since the start of the conflict in 2011.
Since 2012, CIJA has sought to ensure that evidence of alleged war crimes in Syria is compiled and preserved for future trials.
About CIJA: A nonprofit organization funded by Western governments, CIJA has acquired over 800,000 Syrian intelligence and security documents. Over the years, it has used these papers to build cases against senior and former officials implicated in some of the regime’s most brutal human rights abuses.