Loading
Congressional hearing considers Syrian war crimes tribunal
By Adelaide Mena
Bashar al-Assad, President of the Syrian Arab Republic in Damascus April 24, 2007. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe.
Bashar al-Assad, President of the Syrian Arab Republic in Damascus April 24, 2007. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe.

.- In a hearing before a congressional committee, policy officials called for the establishment of a Syrian war crimes tribunal to bring to justice those guilty of human rights violations in the 30-month long conflict.

“Those who have perpetrated human rights violations among the Syrian government, the rebels and the foreign fighters on both sides of this conflict must be shown that their actions will have serious consequences,” said Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.), chairman of the House's subcommittee on global human rights, at the Oct. 30 hearing.

“This is not an academic exercise. We must understand the difficulties of making accountability for war crimes in Syria a reality.” 

Smith added that “therefore, we must understand the challenges involved so that we can meet and overcome them and give hope to the terrorized people of Syria. Their suffering must end, and the beginning of that end could come through the results of today’s proceeding.”

The call for a war crimes tribunal is a response to the gross human rights violations allegedly perpetrated by both government and rebel forces during a violent civil war that has racked Syria for more than two years.

In late August, reports indicated that chemical weapons had been used against civilians in the country, killing more than 1,400 people.

The Obama administration said it had conclusive evidence that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad was responsible for these attacks, though the Syrian government denied this charge and blamed the rebels for the use of chemical weapons.

The possibility of a U.S. military strike against Syria sparked strong opposition from Russia, whose leaders said they have compiled an extensive report with evidence that rebels used chemical weapons back in March.

After several days of talks, an agreement was reached for Syria’s chemical weapons to be eliminated. The process is being overseen by the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

On Oct. 31, weapons inspectors in Syria announced that the country's declared equipment for producing chemical weapons has been destroyed. The regime is to destroy its existing stock of chemical weapons by July 2014.

Smith introduced a resolution asking for a war crimes tribunal on Sept. 9, as a way to enforce international human rights standards prohibiting the use of chemical weapons, while at the same time avoiding the escalation of violence in the war-torn country that would likely result from a U.S. strike.

The Oct. 30 joint hearing focused on “the pros and cons of creating and sustaining a Syrian war crimes tribunal,” Smith said.

David Crane, former chief prosecutor for a U.N. special court for Sierra Leone, noted that “we can prosecute heads of state for international crimes,” and that this prosecution has been done before, such as in the case of former Liberian president Charles Taylor.

Crane outlined five “possibilities for a justice mechanism” that could be used in Syria: the International Criminal Court; an ad hoc court created by the United Nations; a regional court authorized by a treaty with a regional body; an internationalized domestic court; or a domestic court comprised of Syrian nationals within a Syrian justice system.

He added that he believes the International Criminal Court is “just not up to the task” of handling a Syrian war crimes tribunal, and that a local, domestic system would be preferable as it would help Syria “transition to a sustainable peace.”

Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program for Human Rights Watch, agreed that trials should be held to assure justice for the human rights offenses committed, but argued that a trial should take place within the already-existing International Criminal Court rather than through an ad hoc court that must be created and regulated.

Alan White, an investigator for the U.N.'s Sierra Leone court, asserted that “an immediate alternative needs to be aggressively pursued,” but warned that conducting a war crimes tribunal “is one of the most challenging, if not the most difficult and demanding type of investigation within the international justice system.”

For the tribunal's success, he said, witnesses must be protected, and the court should be focused on assuring justice for the victims, not on political accountability to the international community.

Stephen Rademaker of the Bipartisan Policy Center noted that he is typically a critic of war crimes tribunals, but acknowledged that “there are several unique features to the Syrian conflict” that may merit the creation of a tribunal, namely the “humanitarian catastrophe in Syria” and the international community's “moral obligation to try to address it.”

He stressed that a tribunal would help bring to justice human rights offenders on both sides of the civil war, and the public accountability of a trial would help to dissuade future humanitarian offenses. In addition, the tribunal would delegitimize the Assad regime, and “reinforce diplomatic efforts to remove Assad from power.”

The Syrian conflict has now dragged on for 30 months, since demonstrations sprang up nationwide in March 2011 protesting the rule of al-Assad.

In April of that year, the Syrian army began to deploy to put down the uprisings, firing on protesters. Since then, the violence has morphed into a civil war which has claimed the lives of more than 115,000 people.

There are at least 2.1 million Syrian refugees in nearby countries, most of them in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey.

An additional 4.5 million Syrian people are believed to have been internally displaced by the war.

Tags: Syrian Civil War, Chemical Weapons


Ads by AdsLiveMedia(What's this?)

* The number of messages that can be online is limited. CNA reserves the right to edit messages for content and tone. Comments and opinions expressed by users do not necessarily reflect the opinions or beliefs of CNA. CNA will not publish comments with abusive language, insults or links to other pages

RESOURCES »

Ads by Google (What's this?)
Ads by Google (What's this?)

Featured Videos

Pope Francis celebrates the closing Mass and announces site of next World Youth Day
Pope Francis celebrates the closing Mass and announces site of next World Youth Day
Pope Francis visits poor neighborhood and meets with young people from Argentina
Pope Francis celebrates Mass at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida
Denver rally draws hundreds in support of religious freedom
Pope Francis prays over a sick man in St Peter's Square
Denver women's clinic will offer natural, Catholic care
Interview Clips: Barbara Nicolosi speaks to CNA
US Cardinals press conference at North American College
Pope Benedict to retire to monastery inside Vatican City
Pope cites waning strength as reason for resignation
Hundreds convene in Denver to urge respect for life
New Orange bishop encourages Catholic unity in diversity
Chinese pro-life activist calls for reform, international attention
At Lincoln installation, Bishop Conley says holiness is success
Mother Cabrini shrine reopens in Chicago after a decade
Ordination of 33 deacons fills St. Peter's with joy
Cardinal says "Charity is the mother of all the virtues"
Augustine Institute expands evangelization effort with new campus
Bishops recall 'Way of St. James' as chance to trust in God
Los Angeles cathedral's newest chapel houses Guadalupe relic
Apr
18

Liturgical Calendar

April 18, 2014

Friday of the Passion of the Lord (Good Friday)

All readings:
Today »
This year »

Catholic Daily

Gospel of the Day

Jn 18:1 - 19:42

Gospel
Date
04/18/14
04/17/14
04/16/14

Daily Readings


First Reading:: Is 52:13-53:12
Second Reading:: Heb 4:14-16; 5:7-9
Gospel:: Jn 18:1-19:42

Homily of the Day

Jn 18:1 - 19:42

Homily
Date
04/18/14
04/17/14
04/16/14

Ads by AdsLiveMedia.com

Ads by AdsLiveMedia.com
     HTML
Text only
Headlines
  

Follow us: