UN Commission Recommends Legal Action for Syrian War Crimes

Syrian Representative to Human Rights Council. Photo Courtesy of UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

A United Nations-sponsored panel investigating human rights crimes in the Syrian conflict has recommended possibly taking matters to the International Criminal Court (ICC), but any such action is up to the powerful UN Security Council. Russia and China, who have twice vetoed Council action on Syria, are potential roadblocks to referral to the ICC. Yet since Syria’s government is unlikely to refer themselves to the ICC, the Security Council is the only realistic current route to ICC involvement.

The UN’s Commission of Inquiry on Syria in its latest report recommends that the Security Council “take appropriate action and commit to human rights and the rule of law by means of referral to justice, possibly to the International Criminal Court” to prosecute war crimes.

The report details a range of human rights abuses by both government and opposition forces. Government forces and affiliated militia were accused of murder, rape, torture and other war crimes, while anti-government forces were similarly accused. The Commission noted that “the violations and abuses committed by anti-Government armed groups did not, however, reach the intensity and scale of those committed by Government forces and affiliated militia.”

The Commission has accumulated a list, which will be kept confidential, of names and units/groups it believes have committed crimes against humanity and other violations of international law. That list will be sent to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights when the panel concludes its mandate.

Those names could prove to be a list of suspects for an ICC investigation, but experts within the Commission of Inquiry on Syria informed The Mideast Update that such a decision will be up to the ICC. “If the Security Council were to refer the situation in Syria to the ICC, it would be up to the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor to determine who they would prosecute, if anyone,” noted the Commission experts.

The Commission on Syria will present another report on March 11, after which the panel’s mandate can either be closed or extended by the Human Rights Council.

The Syrian conflict, according to a news report by the UN, has killed as many as 70,000 people—primarily civilians. What began as a brutal government crackdown on peaceful protests against President Bashar al-Assad has turned into a civil war. In addition to the death toll, the fighting has also led to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees fleeing their homes.

(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, February 20, 2013)