The Dutch embassy in Washington presents the Anne Frank Award to Syrian-born Mohammad Al Abdallah. Abdallah was recognized at this year's award ceremony which was centered on the theme of prosecuting war crimes.
The Dutch embassy in Washington presents the Anne Frank Award to Syrian-born Mohammad Al Abdallah. Abdallah was recognized at this year's award ceremony which was centered on the theme of prosecuting war crimes.

This year marks the fourth occasion that the Dutch embassy in Washington has presented the Anne Frank Award to those whom Ambassador Henne Schuwer calls "spectacular people" who have contributed to the cause of human rights. Benjamin B. Ferencz, the last surviving prosecutor of Nazis at the post-World War II Nuremberg Trials, and Syrian-born Mohammad al- Abdallah were recognized at this year's award ceremony which was centered on the theme of prosecuting war crimes.

FILE - Benjamin B. Ferencz pose for a picture after he received the Legion of Honor Insignia from French minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian  during an awards ceremony to honor World War II veterans in New York, July 3, 2015.
Nuremberg Prosecutor: No Justice Without Accountability, US Role Crucial

One of the lead U.S. prosecutors at the Nuremberg Trials after World War II, Benjamin B. Ferencz came to America from Transylvania as an infant in 1920.

“I was a poor immigrant boy,” he said recently at an event hosted by the embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Washington.

Ferencz won a scholarship to attend Harvard Law School and graduated in 1943. He then joined the U.S. Army and fought in “every campaign in Europe” under General George Patton, before assuming the duty of gathering Nazi war crime evidence for the U.S.

Mohammad al-Abdallah, himself having gone through torture and abuse at the hands of Syrian authorities, told VOA in an interview that, in his experience, the harm done to his body "was perhaps the easiest to repair" (he had to undergo knee surgery in the United States as a result of what he went through in Syria's prison facilities), whereas the "mental and moral" harm inflicted poses much more of a challenge.

Questions that have taunted him include: did I do anything wrong? Did I do anything wrong when I encouraged people to take part in human rights protests?

A general view of damaged buildings in Ein Terma,
A general view of damaged buildings in Ein Terma, a district of eastern Ghouta, Syria, Feb. 26, 2019.

?Working for The Syria Justice and Accountability Center, an organization that documents and communicates with the outside world about human rights violations inside Syria, gives al- Abdallah the opportunity to work with and for victims of the Syrian war who, he said, in sharing their suffering, are exercising their rights and letting the outside world know the situation inside Syria.

This photo provided by the Syrian Defense White He
This photo provided by the Syrian Defense White Helmets shows a civil defense worker carrying a child after shelling hit a street in the town of Nairab, in the eastern province of Idlib, Syria, Apr. 7, 2019.

He looks forward to a future Syria and the region that is home to Syria "without torture, without missing persons."

"We have to stay involved in Syria" and the country is far from a "solved crisis," in Henne Schuwer, the Dutch ambassador's opinion. "I don't think in a global world, problems are isolated problems anymore."

Watch: Dutch ambassador: We have to stay involved in Syria

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Schuwer thinks work done by Abdallah and his colleagues are acts of vigilance which could have a restraining effect on potential perpetrators.  

"He basically tells people: we know what you're doing, we know what's happening, I'm documenting what you're doing, there will be a price to pay; hopefully that serves as a warning to those people and as a deterrent to stop them from what they're doing," he said.

Schuwer believes that as "rich western democracies, we have the means and the possibilities to help countries that are not as lucky as we are."

He tells VOA that although the Kingdom of the Netherlands is not "a military power," or at least not on the same scale as the United States, "what we have is a rich tradition of development cooperation; we have been active in the region for a very long time, and we are now also very active in the refugee camps."

Providing education to children in refugee camps, Schuwer said, can help prevent these refugee camps from becoming "breeding grounds for new ISIS-es or new terror groups."

FILE - Syrian refugee children play outside their
Syrian refugee children play outside their family tents at a Syrian refugee camp in the town of Bar Elias, in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, April 23, 2018.

Schuwer also expresses hope that "at a certain moment, we have to be able to get into Syria to help rebuild that country."

U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, Democrat from the State of Maryland, said there has to be an end to the civil war, and a peace process which will lead to the Syrian people selecting their own leadership. "There should be accountability and we will continue to push for a mechanism that will allow for that to happen."

Al-Abdallah, a native of Deir ez-Zor in the eastern part of Syria, 450 kilometers from the capital city of Damascus, feels optimistic about Syria's future.

Deir el-Zour, Syria

"I've seen moments when only two or three people show up for protests because everybody is scared, to moments when streets are filled with people." Syrians, he said, "will not give up, even if they're scared and discouraged now," predicting that "things will continue to go up and down, but it's not the end of our battle for freedom."

Watch: Mohammad al-Abdallah: Looks like Assad and Russia won the military fight

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In Abdallah's opinion, although Russia has helped the Syrian government under Bashar al-Assad score military victories, those victories are not the same as political victories which he thinks could still depend on the level of participation by the United States and other western countries.