International Justice

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Tag Archives: Syria

Russia Prohibits Syrian Ceasefire

Both Russia and China have vetoed the draft resolution proposed by the UN Security Council to declare a ceasefire in Aleppo. The ceasefire would have lasted seven days to allow for aid to be supplied to the more than 100,000 people under siege in Aleppo. The resolution was presented to the UNSC jointly by Egypt, New Zealand, and Spain. Venezuela also voted no and Angola abstained from voting; however, the other 11 UNSC members supported the resolution. Russia vetoed the resolution, claiming it did not meet the 24-hour traditional analysis period to review the wording of the resolution. Russia’s veto of the resolution helps preserve the military gains by Syrian troops. “This is the sixth time in five years that Russia has used its veto power to block a draft resolution on Syria” (BBC). The continual blockage by Russia to bring about a ceasefire in Aleppo only allows for the perpetration of more violence and the denial of necessary materials and medical aid.

As Syria Continues To Crumble – The UN Passes Resolutions Against Israel

“French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault this week called the bloodshed in Syria, where Bashar al-Assad is butchering civilians, “a descent into Hell” and demanded an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council.”

Unfortunately, the Security Council one again failed to act- instead the UN General to passed 6 resolutions targeting Israel.

One of these resolutions includes, the UN calling on Israel to withdraw from Syria’s Golan Height’s, territory that the Tel Aviv regime has occupied since 1967. 37 countries, by an overwhelming majority on November 30, have proposed this resolution.

“The resolution also condemned Israel’s non-compliance to the Security Council Resolution 497 since 1981 until now, describing as null and void Tel Aviv’s decision issued on December 14, 1981 to impose its control over the occupied Golan Heights.”

This resolution stresses that the Geneva Convention of protection of civilian individuals in time of war, apply n the occupied Golan Heights. Not only that, the UNGA also reemphasized that the basic principle of inadmissibility of the acquisition of territories by force based on the golan-heights-israel1international law and the UN Charter.
Israel regime has built tens of illegal settlements in the area, since the regime has used the region to carry out military operations against the Syrian Government.

The resolution were all part of the General Assembly’s “Palestine Day”. While I do not like Israel settling in territories that does not belong to them (especially since they have been trying to seize a lot of surrounding Arab territory for a while now), I do like the fact that they have been against the Syrian Government. The UN Security Council continues to do absolutely nothing about the situation in Syria (when it should be the number 1 priority) and instead they are diverting the attention to other problems.

Russia’s Bid for Human Rights Council

(New York City) On October 28, the United Nations General Assembly will select new members for the Human Rights Council. Russia is running for a chance to represent Eastern Europe at the council (against Croatia and Hungary), which has two available seats. But the crime that they have committed in Aleppo has put them under fire and is hindering their chances.

Human Rights Council is considered to be the “world’s foremost human rights body”. More than 80 human rights and organizations, that include Human Rights Watch and Refugee International, have urged UN member states to drop Russia from the running, because of their military campaign in Syria. “Russia’s gross disregard for civilian lives in Syria and its responsibility for illegal attacks makes it unfit to serve on the council,” Louis Charbonneau of Human Rights Watch.

2008_un_humanrightscouncilRussia has been supporting President Assad’s regime in Syria against the rebels and ISIS since September of 2015. Since then they have committed war crimes. Human Rights watch says that since September 19, 2016, “The attacks included the use of barrel bombs, cluster munitions, and incendiary weapons, and damaged or partially destroyed at least five hospitals in six separate attacks”. Russia have also been continually been providing the Syrian government with weapons.

I agree with these organizations, Russia must learn that there are consequences for their actions. I feel as if many have called them out on their wrong doings, but nobody has taken action. I feel as if this will help start sending the right message that the international community recognizes the crimes that they have committed and will not stand for it.

Amnesty in Syria


aleppoPictured above is Aleppo in Syria today. President Assad has offered amnesty to the rebel groups and their families who have taken up arms in Aleppo, if they surrender. The rebel groups denied that they have intentions to leave Aleppo and surrender. Claims have been made that the amnesty is just a trick by the government to lure the group out of the last city they have control over at this time. There were also statements from Washington that claimed it is hard to believe that after all the conflict that has happened the government is now choosing to look after the interest of civilians. Sources also stated that due to the bombardments of missiles from the Russian and Syrian forces the rebel forces holding in Aleppo could fall within “weeks if not days”.

The White House tolerates an atrocity in Syria


Tuesday evening, The Washington Post reported that the United States acted illogically in response to the attack on UN humanitarian aid trucks in Syria the day prior. Although the Red Cross and UN officials suggested a war crime had been committed, Secretary of State John Kerry refused to give up on the US’s tentative relationship with Russia ― one of the parties suspected to be responsible for the horrific bombing. The State Department recorded Kerry declaring that the previously discussed cease-fire agreement, clearly violated by this vicious act, was “not dead” and that talks with Russia should continue. There is abundant evidence that the aid convoy, distinctly marked “humanitarian”, had not deployed before those parties involved in the conflict had been notified of its incoming presence. Russian and Syrian officials deny any and all responsibility for Monday’s attack, but contrary to their unconvincing testimony, there is little doubt about their involvement at this point. How alarming is it that our government is willing to show an overwhelming level of tolerance for such abhorrent atrocities for the sake of protecting a proposed alliance with Russia, the alleged perpetrator of this attack?

When will the ‘blame game’ in Aleppo end?

57e12b8fc46188a4178b45e4-1It is clear from the crisis in Syria over the past five years that no significant progress is being made to end the violence. In fact, matters have gotten increasingly worse. Despite a cease-fire being put in place between the Syrian government and the rebel groups (excluding Isil), attacks continue to inflict havoc in Syria. Just this past Monday an attack occurred in Aleppo, which is located in the northwest corner of Syria. A UN aid convoy carrying flour and other emergency supplies for 78,000 citizens in Aleppo was destroyed by a series of bombs. Residents described that “the bombs were falling like rain”. More than 20 people were killed. This attack is a major issue because it destroyed the cease fire causing the UN to suspend all aid convoys to Syria, a detrimental consequence for civilians. Fingers are being pointed at who is responsible for the attack; the US is blaming Russia and Assad while Russia is blaming rebel terrorist groups. Furthermore, Russia’s defense ministry referenced drone footage stating that terrorists were driving a truck carrying a heavy mortar alongside the convoy before it was bombed. However, monitors in Aleppo captured footage of more than 35 bomb strikes in the area. Innocent civilians are dying and no has the audacity to take responsibility and provide reparations.

War Crimes in Syria

The civil war in Syria that is still going on today has created many problems in the country including a countless number of war crimes that have been committed. The government is to blame for a lot of these war crimes. They deliberately target innocent civilians and they use illegal weapons to do so. They specifically drop bombs called cluster bombs. These bombs are devastating as they release a number of tiny projectiles that go all over the place. The government cannot possibly say that they were only targeting soldiers because they have no control over what these projectiles hit. War crimes are also being committed by the people of Syria who are fighting against the government. The most well known war crime that they are committing is the killings of soldiers who they have in custody. It is an international law that you are not allowed to unlawfully execute enemy soldiers who are in your custody as your prisoners. These Syrian rebels  have also been accused of treating captured government officials very poorly. These war crimes are a serious problem as they put the lives of so many innocent civilians in jeopardy.

Syrian War and its Impact on Human Trafficking

Image result for syrian refugees slavery

We have seen plenty of coverage about the ongoing situation in Syria. After all there is fighting going on between President al-Asaad and Syrian government, rebel groups, and the terrorist group ISIS. There is also intervention with outside nations like the United States and Russia. On top of all this there is the believed use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government on its people. This isn’t the violation of human rights I want to discuss. I want to talk about the mass displacement of Syrian refugees, and how many of them are getting caught up in the human trafficking world. This is largely due to the number of refugees that have nowhere to go and no way to make money. They end up in the hands of groups who take complete advantage of them, and violate the rights all people deserve. Since this crisis started we have also seen an increase in the slavery market. Terror groups ISIS and Boko Haram can be blamed for this as they have taken many prisoners and turned them into working and sex slaves, including many children. They are selling them off and making a large profit on this increasing market. This is a scary thought, and something serious needs to be done. (including image)

Buffer Zone in Syria

One possibility that has been considered by several major powers with regards to the Syria crisis has been a “buffer zone” to protect Syrian refugees that have made it to Turkey. As we discussed in class on thursday, the problem with Syria is sovereignty, as long as the Assad regime stays in power. A foreign affairs article discusses the possible buffer zone through the context of R2P. ISIS attacks on unprotected civilians qualifies under R2P as needing some form of humanitarian intervention. However, the problem remains with R2P that Russia could veto it at the Security Council. Furthermore, what would the creation of a buffer zone entail, and what would it look like? It would certainly need the backing of countries like the US and other powers to supply troops and air support. If western powers did intervene in some degree, the blame could easily be passed on to them if ISIS attacks continue. Also as the article notes, a buffer zone could exacerbate the crisis in that more Syrians might try to flee the country for safe haven.

Ultimately, this sort of intervention under R2P would not be a peacemaking endeavor. As the article notes, it wouldn’t be a “blank check” for western intervention to provide justice and end the conflict. On the contrary, the success of a buffer zone would depend on the volatility of the crisis in Syria, in terms of both ISIS and atrocities committed by the Assad regime. Yet the fact remains that “Syria’s humanitarian crisis is quickly becoming Turkey’s national security issue”. As Turkey has to handle an increasing amount of refugees, more pressure will be put on the UN, and it will be harder to ignore for countries like the US.

Is al-Qaeda’s Reach Dwindling?

For over a decade, al-Qaeda had cemented its reputation as one of the world’s most violent and notorious terrorist groups. However, as ISIS’s brutal and attention-grabbing tactics have hastened its ascension on the world stage, and other groups, such as Nigeria’s Boko Haram and Somalia’s al-Shabab have also launched violent attacks, al-Qaeda’s profile has slowly, but noticeably, declined.

Over the past several years, western drone strikes have decimated al-Qaeda’s core leadership; most recently, the group confirmed that CIA drone strikes had killed Ahmad Farooq, a Pakistani who both oversaw relations with the Pakistani Taliban and managed al-Qaeda’s south Asia operations, and Qari Abdullah Mansur, a Pakistani who oversaw suicide bombings against NATO troops in the region. The constant and rapid loss of its leadership had severely limited the group’s effectivity; in contrast to ISIS, al-Shabab, and Boko Haram, all of which are repeatedly demonstrating their international reach, al-Qaeda’s last successful international operation was the bombing of the London subway system, which was about a decade ago. The scope of al-Qaeda’s reach has dwindled drastically, and the group has relegated itself to focusing on attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Although al-Qaeda and its subsidiaries — particularly its branch in Yemen — remain powerful and dangerous players on the international stage, its capacity and notoriety has diminished.

ICC has no jurisdiction to prosecute ISIS

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda released a statement today clarifying that the ICC currently has no jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed by ISIS.  Though the atrocities themselves, which she described as “crimes of unspeakable cruelty” including mass executions, sexual slavery, and allegations of genocide, would fall under the court’s mandate to prosecute the world’s most serious crimes, the court does not have jurisdiction.  Because the crimes have taken place in Iraq and Syria, neither of which are state parties to the Rome Statute, the ICC does not have territorial jurisdiction.  It is possible that the court could assert jurisdiction over nationals of signatory states, and there have been reports of ISIS recruitments from state parties including Tunisia, Jordan, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Australia.  However, under the court’s mandate, they can only be prosecuted if they are both directly implicated in the commission of crimes against humanity or war crimes and if they are “most responsible” for these atrocities.  Because all information indicates that the leadership structure of ISIS is made up of Syrian and Iraqi nationals, these individuals, not the foreign fighters, would be considered most responsible.

At this point in the conflict, Bensouda explained, the jurisdictional basis for the ICC to open an investigation is “too narrow.”  Her statement also explained that the UNSC or the non-party states involved both have the power to confirm jurisdiction on the conflict, but she emphasized that this decision is entirely independent of the court.  This statement is interesting to consider in the context of both the impunity debate and the whether or not the court has an “African bias.”  The fact that the ICC has not taken action in response to crimes committed by ISIS is sometimes cited as evidence that the court doesn’t investigate crimes outside of Africa, or that the fight against impunity has been abandoned altogether.  Bensouda made the statement, she explained, in response to the numerous inquiries her office has received about whether or not her office was investigating.  It is crucial to understand the legal confines of the court’s jurisdiction in order to understand that often its legal mandate, not a bias or politics, prevents it from acting.

Bashar al- Assad’s use of chemical weapons condemned by international watchdog

Bashar al-Assad thought he had found a loop hole in the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ ban on chemical weapons when he decided to use chlorine against his people knowing that this was not listed on the prohibited chemicals of the organization. However, on Wednesday the use of chlorine as a chemical weapon has been labeled as an international breach of law and whoever is responsible should be brought to justice. A fact- finding mission’s report concluded “to a high degree of confidence” that chlorine was used on three villages in northern Syria, killing 13 people and an abundant amount of livestock. It is clear that Assad’s regime is continuing to violate the Chemical Weapons Convention.However Assad is denying any ties to these attacks and is blaming “terrorists” for the attack. What I found interesting was that both US and Russia cooperated towards making this statement to the OPCW and Iran tried to block their efforts in order to shield Assad. In the Foreign Policy article it states how Syria and its allies have tried to prevent the UN security council’s meddling of internal affairs. I think this opposition of the UN highlights how accountability is a struggle that continues to face international justice efforts. The article also highlights how OPCW has refused to turn in evidence to the UN Security council and it further explains how even with evidence the UN security council will face obstacles if it tries to place sanctions on Syria. The atrocity that is going on in Syria is emphasizing the critiques of the international justice system that we have discussed in class. Hopefully the international community continues to take steps towards finding justice for the victims in Syria.

Should Syria have a truth commission?


This editorial presented the argument that Syria must have a truth commission in order to put Syria on the right path towards reconciling their nation from the horrors that it has endured in the last 40 years.  Talks in the Geneva II Conference on Syria are ongoing, however the author, Ayman Al-Yassini, does not hold the opinion that international justice will be enough.  The horrors that the Syrians have endured have stemmed for the environment of fear and insecurity that has recently been ended and was created by many intelligence agencies that oppressed the people and reported directly to President Bashar Assad, agencies that were given nearly free reign to arrest and detain who they please without giving information to the imprisoned.  In addition to the lack to a fair and speedy trial, evidence of torture and murder has been found in detention centers throughout the country.

Al-Yassini writes that only the public revealing of the truth in a truth commission will Syrians first be able to begin the process of accountability, and then of healing and reconciliation.  Al-Yassini adopts a relatively standard definition of truth commissions, writing that a truth commission “would provide justice for all victims, and would act as an effective form of retribution against the perpetrators of such crimes.”  However, he does not take into account the problems that have befallen truth commissions in the past.  Al Yassini claims that a truth commission will provide justice for all victims, yet rarely have truth commissions in the past been as inclusive.  How far is the Syrian government willing to go in terms of reconciliation? How much jurisdiction would the government have over the commission?  One of the criticisms of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which is generally seen as the model for those to come, was that it paid little attention to crimes of violence.  In the case of the fatal tortures of youth and women, would a Syrian Truth Commission take the measures it needs to?

Ultimately, I think Al-Yassini’s editorial is a simple proposal that wasn’t thought out completely, but might be a good idea in getting Syria on the right track to peace.

Prioritization of World News

What Syria’s Civil War Would Look Like in the West

A new video by international NGO, “Save the Children,” recently came out. The video marks the third anniversary of the conflict in Syria, in which over 10,000 children have died and over 2 million have become refugees. It features shots of a girl as she goes about her normal life over the course of a year, ending with the child celebrating her birthday in the context of what it might look like if the West was war torn like Syria.

The video does not necessarily promote peace for the sake of the future generation. Some people may criticize such works as something to stir emotions and pull heartstrings. The cinematography takes a spin to perhaps be more relatable for people in the West. Do you think this is effective in bringing more attention to the actual event? (in this case, the conflict in Syria)

NGOs have a big role in presenting the intention of justice in relation to the Tribunal but some documentaries and media projects are not well informed about the process of international justice and many may have misconceptions about it. Rather than bringing individual or group accountability, media attention can often reinforce the same divisions that divide countries during a war. News channels are often for-profit institutions that benefit from getting news out to people by numbers. What remains controversial in journalism is whether news should be based on viewership as much as what would be considered “newsworthy.”

The impact of creative international justice-related PSAs and interpretations of international issues can be vulnerable to misrepresentation and misunderstanding in the midst of garnering viewer support.

A case happening right now – even though Venezuela is only a couple hours away by plane from the U.S., news does not necessarily prioritize covering the Venezuela case compared to Ukraine.

In what ways do you see that U.S. and Western prioritization of certain parts of the news affecting the prioritization of involvement and aid in international justice?

Crimes Against Children in Syria

A recent UN report has presented evidence of recruitment of child soldiers, and sexual violence and killing of children in the current crisis in Syria. The report details atrocities committed between March 1, 2011 to November 15, 2013, claiming that over 10,000 children have been killed in less than three years.

Witnesses have reported that abuses against children detained by government authorities included “beatings with metal cables, whips and wooden and metal batons; electric shocks, including to the genitals; the ripping out of fingernails and toenails; sexual violence, including rape or threats of rape; mock executions; cigarette burns; sleep deprivation; solitary confinement; and exposure to the torture of relatives”. While boys aged 12 to 17 years have been trained, armed and used as combatants for rebel forces.

While the UN has in past accused both the government and rebel alliance of crimes committed against children, this is the first report that has been presented directly to the UNSC on the issue. Given the outstanding evidence provided in the report, is it possible that the UNSC, which has thus far been incapable of providing a response to the conflict due to the polarizing interests of the p5, will be able to pass a directive that would respond directly to the atrocities committed against children? One of the main excuses Russia and China have used to rule against resolutions developed by the UNSC have placed too much responsibility on the Syrian government for atrocities committed, rather than acknowledging crimes perpetrated by rebel groups. The report, however, suggests that both sides of the conflict are to blame for these atrocities: the government in perpetrating sexual violence and torture of children, and rebel groups for coercing children into joining their militias. Understanding that both sides are being held accountable, will this entice Russia and China to vote in favor of a resolution that specifically addresses atrocities committed against children?

Furthermore, how might this report affect the United States’ stance on providing assistance to the Syrian Opposition? A State Department spokesman of the United States condemned the use of child soldiers, stating “We thoroughly vet recipients of our assistance in Syria. The leadership of the moderate armed opposition has repeatedly affirmed its commitment to upholding international human rights standards.” However, the report cites the Western-backed Free Syrian Army is guilty of recruitment of child soldiers.

While it is unlikely that the ICC will become involved in this situation due to the polarization of the UNSC, how can this report contribute to taking punitive measures against “big fish” perpetrators of crimes against children on both sides of this conflict?

Rape as a War Crime

A British documentary revealed a disturbing account of the rape chambers of Gaddafi.

When rape is used as a weapon in war and peace, there is a thin line where violators cross from what would be recognized as torture to the ICC or classified as an “ordinary crime” handled by civil court.

With the photo archives that have been revealed in the “sex dungeon” cases and even the tortures in Syria, what kind of suit would have to be brought against a person if there is not enough evidence of torture? In situations of massacres and large scale violence, how are rape cases distinguished between crimes of war, crimes against humanity, and instruments of genocide?

Because of such personal accounts and humiliation that come with the reporting of a rape crime, it is most likely the case that a lot of rape events have not been confronted as war crimes until much later after it actually happened. If an offender identifies with a party opposed to that which the civilian victim belongs to or to which she/he owes allegiance, is the crime ultimately considered to be carried out in unison with the ultimate goals of a military campaign?

The timing of the offense perpetrated during a non-international armed conflict is a complicated one. How is it proven that an offense has been created by an armed conflict? Does the timing of conflict necessarily create the context of rape? I ask this because I’m sure not all rape cases during conflict times are carried out in consonance with the ultimate goals of a military campaign and against a protected person.The same applies to the case of an offense committed (e.g. murder) in breach of IHL, by a civilian against a combatant belonging to the opposing party to the conflict.

Jurisdiction of the ICC

No Prospect of Trials in Syria

The ongoing conflict in Syria has produced massive atrocities on both sides, as documented in numerous pictures, videos, and other evidence. Despite the proof of crimes, the International Criminal Court is unlikely to prosecute Syrian president Assad. Because Syria is not a signatory to the ICC statute, a trial would require a referral by the United Nations Security Council. Russia, who has a permanent seat on the council, has so far supported Assad and blocked any condemnation of human rights violations. This shows a limitation of the ICC; its jurisdiction is restricted by political considerations, meaning that it is incapable of evenly distributing justice.

A potential solution lies in the concept of universal jurisdiction; a court from another state could try President Assad for severe human rights abuses. However, the likelihood of this occurring in such a politically charged situation, particularly when the universal jurisdiction laws of many nations carry restrictions, is low.

Syria Geneva talks progress, but with difficulties

This article recounts some of the difficulties involved with bringing the two sides of the recent Syrian civil conflict, the regime and the rebels, to the same table in order to begin to resolve their differences that have been expressed over two years of brutal civil war that have torn apart a country.  What started as minor protests in response to government corruption and human rights abuses in January 2011 escalated with the government’s use of military to quell uprising, a utilization of force that killed many civilians and only served to further enrage the protesters, until one day they too take up arms against their government.

While the conflict has come to something of a lull, both sides still have deep differences. Most recently, peace talks were delayed for 24 hours after the regime refused to acknowledge the results of Geneva I, the previous conflict, which concluded that Bashar Al-Assad be removed from power.  After a day of playing middleman between the two camps, UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi announced that the two camps had agreed to meet at the same table.  While Brahimi expressed his hope that the two sides will understand their “different interpretations on some of those items [in Geneva I],” it remains to be seen if the two sides actually are on the same page.

Assad, Torture and Warcrimes


This week the Syrian regime has come under increased pressure. This is nothing new, but what is different is the angle of attack, as a report on the ‘Credibility of Evidence Certain Evidence With Regard to the Torture and Execution of Persons Incarcerated by the Current Syrian Regime’ speaks more to the treatment of prisoners than the more widely covered civil war, which we are in general more familiar with. 

The indictment would thus be war crimes, and the three lawyers that compiled the reports were the senior lawyers on the ICTY and Sierra Leone. The lawyers obtained their evidence by interviewing a senior defector codenamed ‘Caesar’, who detailed the egregious treatment of prisoners, which included maiming, removing of eyes and worse. To quote De Silva, the former Chief Prosecutor of the special court for Sierra Leone, “This is a smoking gun of a kind we didn’t have before. It makes a very strong case indeed”.

Let’s assume Assad is guilty of this. There are two main problems with the report. The first is it is incomplete-it focuses on Assad as an individual and his regime, but does nothing to address the other groups involved in the conflict. For instance, it is  likely that al-Nusra, an extremist group in the region, are responsible for similar atrocities. Part of the problem with the emphasis on individualism in international law is that groups like al-Nusra are much more difficult to prosecute. In other words, the media or al-Nusra itself would have to work harder to elevate an individual a level that they could be held responsible and prosecuted. 

The second problem is that Syria is not a part of the ICC or the Rome Statute, and thus would require referral by the UNSC. With the already given reluctance from Russia and China on such matters, it seems unlikely that this matter would proceed further than it already is. Ultimately this is the main problem the ICC faces: even when faced with, what the three lawyers believe to be conclusive evidence, it is unable to function. What such reports can do, however, is put further pressure on the Assad regime by means of increased exposure to its crimes. In this, we see that the ICC’s ability to generate political pressure does not just come from the trials it has, but the process by which such trials are called. In other words, if the ICC did not exist, and the mechanisms to bring such crimes to the court via such reports did not exist, there would be no need to generate them, and thus this avenue of pressure would be lost. 


Chemical weapons in Syria

There has been rising concern that Assad will use chemical weapons (or that they would lose control of them to other groups). The concern has been enough that President Obama and Secretary Clinton have both spoken up about. Secretary Clinton called it the “red line”. If crossed, she said that “those responsible would be held to account”.

I can’t help but be reminded of the Halabja massacre. In the Halabja massacre, several thousands of Kurdish people (mostly civilians) were killed by chemical weapons (by Iraqi government forces). Officially, this has been named an act of genocide against the Kurdish Iraqis. Even without targeting a specific group, it has still been defined as a crime against humanity by the Parliament of Canada.

Syria has said that they have chemical weapons, but said that they were there in case of invading forces. However, there is obviously still the very concerning possibility that they could be used on the Syrian people.

Concerning the situation in Syria, reports are saying that the USS Eisenhower is on the Syrian coast and ready for intervention. This intervention could happen “within days”.

This action by the United States actually follows a decision by NATO to arrange for the Patriot Air and Missile Defense Systems in Turkey on the Syrian border. This is because of concern for the Turkey, as well as the northern parts of the Syrian border (these are controlled by the rebels).

Chemical weapons in Syria

USS Eisenhower by Syria

Halabja massacre

Can (Well-Meaning) Individuals Impede Peace and Justice?

As we saw in the ICC documentary shown in class as well as our various reading assignments related to the court, former chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo certainly (even if inadvertently) had a polarizing effect on the international community’s response to ICC actions in pursuit of justice. The fact that Moreno-Ocampo so significantly colored nations’ perceptions of the ICC brings up a bigger question: To what extent can an individual influence the attainment of justice?

Making this question more pressing is the news of Carla Del Ponte’s involvement with the UN’s Independent International Commission on Inquiry, currently charged with investigating alleged human rights violations in Syria. Del Ponte, the “feisty” (to say the least) former chief prosecutor of the ICTY and ICTR has taken up the cause of ensuring that justice is served to those responsible for the Syrian atrocities. Keeping in mind the fact that her behavior is credited with the decision to split the ICTY/ICTR chief prosecutor’s responsibility between the two courts, I wonder what impact her stubborn disposition (which she claims to be quite proud of) and abrasive means of interacting with state leaders will have on the situation unfolding in Syria.

While the answer to my aforementioned question may seem obvious—one person does have the potential to jeopardize justice (this is, of course, a debatable claim though)—it is complicated by the potential tension between peace and justice. If Del Ponte takes a hard line advocating for justice for Assad (and, in light of recent news, maybe even rebel leaders as well) in the form of criminal trial proceedings, will that impede an end to the conflict? Furthermore, when it comes to polarizing—albeit well-meaning—individuals such as Moreno-Ocampo and Del Ponte, how do we reconcile their personal strategies (as prominent leaders in the field of transitional justice) for seeking justice with the broader strategies for achieving peace and justice on the macro-level?

Syrian Troops’ Execution Video

Recently, a video emerged that allegedly showed Syrian rebels executing captured government troops. The video appears to show the Syrian rebels beating 10 soldiers and then lining them up on the ground and executing them with automatic rifles. According to the United Nations, if the video were verified, the executions on the video would constitute a war crime and the video could possibly be used as evidence in court. Although the actions in the video are apparent, the perpetrators are not because according to Rupert Colville, spokesman for UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Like other videos of this sort, it’s difficult to verify immediately in terms of location, who’s involved.” This video just further shows members of the international community and human rights organizations that the situation in Syria is only worsening. Michael Hayworth from Amnesty International stated, “The international community had the option, had the ability, to stop this conflict and introduce accountability into Syria months and months ago when the crisis started. They have absolutely failed. The UN Security Council has absolutely failed the civilians of Syria and these sorts of incidents are the result of an out of control conflict.” With the Syrian rebels taking control over more areas and towns and with the death toll believed to be at almost 40,000, it is clear that this conflict needs to be stopped. Though there have been numerous calls for the members of the international community to step in and do something about this conflict, no major moves have been made. Could this video be a part of that turning point?

The Fate of Assad

Much has already been made of the comments by UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, that Assad could be assured of safe passage and exile from Syria. Cameron defends the remark by arguing that the priority should be on stopping the killing, implying that justice may be too idealistic. I have noted the pragmatic and principled issues with the exile option before.

His removal and subsequent regime change would stop the killing –  but in what scenario would Assad face justice? Getting him to the ICC would require a UN Security Council referral, which is unlikely given Russia’s inevitable opposition. Facing justice in Syria would first require regime change, a la Libya, and the international community would rightly be concerned about the feasibility of impartial trials.

We can resign ourselves to the impossibility of justice in the short term, however, an offer of exile and amnesty is not likely to be credible to Assad anyways. The issue does remind us that we largely don’t know how and whether leaders who commit mass killings make rational calculations about their exit strategies.

In the Eyes of the Beholder: The Legitimacy of International Justice to Non-State Actors

As we’ve seen in the ICC case study examples in class, the benchmark of success for international justice efforts seems to be the system’s capabilities when it comes to indicting, arresting, and prosecuting former or sitting state officials (in some cases, even heads of state). Moreover, it is those indictments against state officials that stir up the most controversy in the transitional justice and human rights community. That being said, the ICC has, of course, issued arrest warrants for rebel leaders as well. A question emerges, however, when we look to the legitimacy of international justice mechanisms such as the ICC in the eyes of non-state actors.

In the case of Syria, for example, there has been growing international pressure for an ICC investigation into the crimes committed by the state under the Assad regime. Evidence of atrocities committed by rebel groups has very recently come to the forefront of the news as well, though. This situation brings to light a sense of tension in the pursuit of international justice.

Looking at cases in states that have self-referred their situations to the ICC, we see that it is often difficult to bring charges up against governments whose cooperation is necessary to the gathering of information in investigations. In a case such as Syria, however, there is little doubt in the international community that the actions of the government must be investigated (even though Syria is notably not a state party to the ICC). The question will be, though, whether or not the violent actions of rebel groups will also be perceived as worthy of investigation and legal action. Here arises the ultimate question: How do non-state actors view international justice institutions? Do they feel they are not bound by the international norms that their governments have subscribed to, either because the state has violated such rights standards, or (more broadly) because they see the actions of their state as wholly illegitimate to begin with? Looking back to Syria, we must remember that the nation is not a state party to the ICC, therefore making this latter question somewhat less applicable. Nevertheless, considering the ever-growing role that non-state actors play in global politics, the broader issue of the legitimacy of international justice in the eyes of these non-state actors will take on increasing importance as we continue to use the deterrence factor as an argument in favor of transitional justice mechanisms.

A Legal Route to Indicting Assad?

Eight months ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton insinuated that Bashar al-Assad is a war criminal; however, the US was reluctant to indict him, preferring to keep Assad’s exit route open as a mean to peace. But, as I said, that was eight months ago and this is now. Tens of thousands of Syrians have been killed in the conflict so far and the great powers remain in a diplomatic stalemate, with the US and the Gulf States backing the Syrian opposition, and Russia, China, and Iran backing or at least obstructing efforts to take action against the current regime. Indicting Assad has been dismissed as impossible by some because of Russia’s and China’s power to veto a Security Council referral to the ICC – a necessary proceeding considering the fact that Syria is not a State Party to the Rome Statute. But unlike Libya, Syria is a signatory to the Statute, which carries with it an obligation, as outlined in the Vienna Convention of the Law of Treaties (Article 18), “to refrain from acts which would defeat the object and purpose of a treaty.” Despite the fact that such a legal case would likely be destroyed in the political maelstrom that would follow and may even damage “the developing bond between the Court and UN Security Council as co-defenders of justice and peace” if it survived the onslaught, it does point to the fact that the veto power of two great powers does not necessarily need to make impunity an unalterable fact of life in the case of Syria.

If the legal route doesn’t seem tenable, there is more pressure to be put on China by the Gulf States on whom it is dependent for energy. Without China, Russia, now standing alone, might yield. You could also play diplomatic football with Russia and grant it leadership over a Security Council measure to indict Assad. Perhaps good press and widespread international recognition would prove convincing enough. It may be a historically unprecedented move, but going with the legal option I proposed, if all else fails and if it really is possible, would at the very least draw more attention to Russia’s and China’s obstinance and place even more pressure on them. In the meantime, immobility is not an option for those who do not wish to see the cause of international justice and the credibility of its institutions undermined.