International Justice

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UN Calls for Ad Hoc Tribunal for Syria

Since 2011, Syria has been home to a violent civil war that arose in the context of the Arab Spring. Spanning 4 years so far, the conflict is ongoing and has left 220,000 people dead and 11 million displaced. What began as a fight between those for or against the Assad regime has developed into a sectarian conflict, pitting Sunni Muslims against Shia Muslims, and the involvement of jihadist groups such as ISIS has added another dimension to the conflict. A UN commission of inquiry has evidence of mass atrocities that have taken place in Syria since March of 2011, particularly violence done to civilian populations, and has developed a secret list of those they consider war criminals in the region.

Major political actors in the international community are in many ways involved or invested in the Syrian conflict and its justice process. Russia in particular has been staunchly against a Security Council referral of the situation to the ICC. Russia supports the Assad regime, and is likely concerned that a Security Council referral would lead to the singling out of President Bashar al-Assad as a most responsible perpetrator. In the face of opposition from major powers like Russia and China, the UN Commission has been forced to consider options other than the ICC, and is now considering the appeal of an ad hoc tribunal for Syria. Former chief prosecutor of the ICTY Carla Del Ponte believes that an ad hoc tribunal could work in Syria for a number of reasons: “‘First of all, the ICC would prosecute only three, four, five perpetrators, not more. I think an ad-hoc tribunal could prepare a list of over a hundred, like the tribunal for the former Yugoslavia … An ad-hoc tribunal could also be based near the region, facilitating access of witnesses, documentation and so on,'”. Russia and China would likely be more amenable to an ad hoc tribunal as well, because it would pursue more prosecutions of members of extremist elements of the conflict alongside members of the Assad regime.

It is yet unclear whether the Commission plans to work in tandem with national courts that would exercise universal jurisdiction in order to prosecute human rights violations that occurred during the Syrian conflict, or if they will initiate an investigation and prosecutions of their own. The Commission has indicated that it is willing to cooperate with national courts in terms of sharing incidents of violence and alleged perpetrators, but no concrete steps have yet been made towards the establishment of an ad hoc tribunal for Syria.


One response to “UN Calls for Ad Hoc Tribunal for Syria

  1. tcheng2015 March 24, 2015 at 9:06 pm

    The ongoing conflict in Syria has led to a series of atrocious human rights violations. While the ICC was established to end impunity for the worst crimes under international law, it is unlikely that the conflict in Syria will ever make it to the ICC. Without a referral to the ICC, it is crucial that the international community with domestic forces to establish an alternate form of justice because “a culture of impunity is flourishing in Syria”.

    The ability for an ad hoc tribunal to succeed in Syria can be determined by the willingness of members within the Security Council to allow for the creation of a tribunal and Syria’s ability to work with the tribunals. An ad hoc tribunal would work in the best interest of Syria and foreign countries; thereby, increasing its chances of success as a solution to justice. Former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia stated that Russia would be more open to a special tribunal on Syria that an ICC referral because of its ability to handle more cases. If the local government is willing to support the ad hoc tribunals, it is almost guaranteed that the ad hoc tribunal on Syria would succeed.

    An ad hoc tribunal for Syria would provide great benefits, but we cannot rely on the tribunal as Syria’s only form of justice. The tribunal must work in tandem with regional courts, international domestic courts and domestic courts comprised with Syrian nationals.

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