International Justice

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Tag Archives: UNSC

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.

North Korea: UN report concludes crimes against humanity were committed

A report leaked last week, indicating that after a year of investigations, the UN is set to come to the conclusion that North Korea has committed crimes against humanity.  The report also stated that the UN panel in charge of the investigation will recommend the referral of North Korea to the International Criminal Court.

North Korea, however, is not a cut and dry case and will likely by one of the biggest challenges for the UN:  “a nation whose abuses are carried out by an entrenched family-run government that faces almost no threat of international intervention.”

One of the biggest obstacles a referral of North Korea to the ICC will face is China, one of the North’s “traditional allies” who could block any attempt of action by the Security Council.

It is no secret that North Korea has committed crimes against humanity; it has been documented that the country currently holds anywhere from 80,000 to 120,000 political prisoners in its labor camps which are hidden in mountainous areas and documented only by satellites and survivor accounts.  A panel was created a year ago to raise awareness internationally, and has been used for investigative purposes.  The panel draws on testimony from camp survivors and witnesses for descriptions of the conditions in camps and prisons.  Prisoners were subjected to deliberate starvation, forced labor, and public executions were frequently witnessed.

Find an account by Kim Hye-Sook here.

Due to the relationship between China and North Korea, should the UN pursue a Security Council referral?  The request for a referral would definitely raise global awareness to the crimes committed in the country, but would you expect to see action taken here?

The country has undoubtedly committed crimes in the past decade that are applicable for a trial, but could it be a problem if they are using the testimony of survivors from before the ICC was created?

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?

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.