Time to refer Syria crisis to ICC
January 10th, 2013
10:38 AM ET

Time to refer Syria crisis to ICC

By Michael Spindelegger, Karl Erjavec, Eamon Gilmore and Villy Søvndal, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Michael Spindelegger, Karl Erjavec, Eamon Gilmore and Villy Søvndal are the foreign ministers of Austria, Slovenia, Ireland and Denmark, respectively. The views expressed are their own.

Over the months, we have been following the events in Syria with growing concern. We support the aspirations of the Syrian people to freely choose a government that represents all the enriching diversity of this multi-confessional nation, one that respects the rule of law, human rights and democracy. It is deplorable that the current regime in Damascus has not heeded the repeated calls for a peaceful transition of power. As do our colleagues from the Arab League, we strongly condemn the violence by the al-Assad regime against the Syrian people. We call on all sides to end the violence and to genuinely support the U.N.-led efforts to achieve a political solution.

But recent developments have given reason for even more serious concern. U.N. peacekeepers were seriously injured when a convoy of the UNDOF peacekeeping operation on the Golan Heights was attacked. Reports about possible preparations for the use of chemical weapons circulate. The al-Assad regime is preparing Damascus for confrontation with the rebels and we know that these situations of last stand urban fighting often result in the most terrible atrocities being committed in armed conflict, with particular dangers for civilians. Concerned that the crisis in Syria may soon reach a new level of violence, we publicly appeal to all parties to the conflict to abide by international law, especially international humanitarian law and human rights law, and to recall that all those that commit or order war crimes and crimes against humanity will be held accountable. This principle cannot and will not be negotiated.

As we know from the work of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria, horrendous crimes have already been committed during the conflict in Syria, but there have been no consequences for the perpetrators. It is precisely for situations like this that the international community established the permanent International Criminal Court (ICC) ten years ago. This independent judicial body can provide justice when a state is unable or unwilling to prosecute the most terrible crimes. Since Syria is not a party to the ICC Statute, jurisdiction of the Court requires a decision of the U.N. Security Council. In view of the grave concerns mentioned above, and the lack of prosecution in Syria, we call on the U.N. Security Council to urgently refer the situation in Syria to the ICC. In this respect, we welcome the Conclusions of the European Union Foreign Affairs Council on December 10, 2012 and the Swiss initiative at the United Nations to achieve this goal.

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A referral to the ICC – which has repeatedly been suggested by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay – has several advantages. The Court is a neutral and impartial institution that investigates and prosecutes the most serious crimes on all sides. A referral would give the leaders of the Syrian opposition a strong argument to call for discipline among its diverse forces. It would give the members of the al-Assad regime a further reason to question their allegiance. And it could assist the search for a political solution to the conflict. As we saw in other crises, parallel political and judicial processes are mutually supporting. There is no decision to be taken here between either peace or justice – a sustainable, long-term solution requires both.

Most important, however, a referral to the ICC would make clear to every fighter on all sides of the conflict that the gravest crimes will eventually be punished. We owe this not only to the victims and their families, but also to future generations of Syrians who want to live in a free state founded on the principles of peace and justice. And we owe it to the future of humankind: After thousands of years of sometimes gruesome history, human civilization must no longer accept impunity for the most atrocious crimes. Only if we make absolutely clear that these crimes will not go unpunished, can we reduce the likelihood that humankind will have to suffer from them in the future.

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soundoff (27 Responses)
  1. Spongebob2007

    Hmmmm....ya think maybe the opposition fighters, with the Jabhat al-Nusra leading in most of the battles these days, might also be guilty of one or two war crimes?

    O wait, I forgot, that would be okay cuz once they finish the dirty work you lot are going to put your own "puppets" in charge, and since they haven't lived in Syria in many years you know their hands won't be soiled with blood.

    Go back to Austria, Slovenia, Ireland and Denmark and look after your own problems, in an honest and unbiased fashion!!

    January 10, 2013 at 11:37 am | Reply
    • asdf

      Wow so it appears Mr. Squarepants is an Assad nut hugger. Who'd thunk it? Or perhaps a paid Russian astro turfer who forgot to change his name from the kids article he was posting his propaganda on.

      January 10, 2013 at 6:12 pm | Reply
      • BreakURFingers

        The ICC is a CRUEL JOKE, used to "prosecute" ONLY the little guys. The BIG GUYS are of course IMMUNE to this "so-called" court.

        January 13, 2013 at 9:10 am |
  2. Joseph McCarthy

    I'm getting sick and tired of all this right-wing propaganda about the Assad regime being responsible for all the civilian deaths in Syria. At least half, if not more, of these people are being killed off by these so-called "rebels". Let's face it, those bozos in Washington want nothing less than another U.S. backed pseudo-democracy installed in Syria! I say, let the Syrians decide their own future!

    January 10, 2013 at 11:40 am | Reply
    • asdf

      They are deciding just with AKs instead of votes. Unfortunately it will be the Muslim fundamentalists that ultimately win which may be a bigger loss to the US than even Assad staying.

      January 10, 2013 at 6:17 pm | Reply
  3. Travis

    Talk about war criminals, how about getting Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Tony Blair, David Cameron, etc. to stand trial for what they did? Obama alone, has more blood on his hands than all the members of the Chicago Mob, both past and present, including Al Capone! The above mentioned people are primes examples of just how fair life is not!!!

    January 10, 2013 at 4:46 pm | Reply
    • asdf

      > Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Tony Blair, David Cameron

      You do realize nobody on your list is or was a member of the governments of Austria, Slovenia, Ireland and Denmark right? Easy to invoke the US boogieman but we are staying out of it to the point of making things worse.

      January 10, 2013 at 6:20 pm | Reply
  4. lewtwo

    This is an Arab/Muslim problem and needs to be left to them to deal with.
    Anytime the civilized world get involved in muslims problem they start to riot.
    So let them handle it themselves.

    January 10, 2013 at 5:34 pm | Reply
  5. BW

    Travis...? realy...

    January 10, 2013 at 5:48 pm | Reply
  6. asdf

    Not to defend Syria or the ultimate tyrants that are the Assad clan but I thought the ICC was set up only for the Balkans and Africa. That seems to be the only people they go after.

    January 10, 2013 at 6:22 pm | Reply
  7. grumblesfromthegrave

    Absolutely, the atrocities in Syria are appalling. Let's put out some more STRONGLY WORDED censures and have a group of international "give-peace-a-chance" nuts in a "court room" go through the motions of condemning these atrocities.

    "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."
    - George Orwell

    January 11, 2013 at 1:17 am | Reply
  8. AlFetahRevolution

    More anti-Assad propaganda. To hell with you! You are not Syrians, do not speak in their name! Many Syrians support their president.

    January 11, 2013 at 1:22 am | Reply
  9. j. von hettlingen

    Indeed, Syria is not a signatory of the ICC Statute, so jurisdiction of the Court requires a decision of the U.N. Security Council. Yet the Security Council has more urgent matters to attend to: a cease-fire is much needed, but in vain. Besides China and Russia would prefer the Syrians to deal with Assad and other war criminals themselves rather than have them extradited to the Hague to face charges before the ICC.

    January 11, 2013 at 6:37 am | Reply
  10. rightospeak

    We need to realize that the authors represent NATO propaganda. While they write about human rights and democracy elsewhere ,they do not have it in the EU. Globalism rules the EU and one can go to jail for expressing an unpopular view as was the case with jailing of the historian David Irving in Austria. One may disagree with his views ,but he writes good historical books . One may even hate him , but to jail the man for writing historical facts ? That is Globalist tyranny.

    January 11, 2013 at 11:53 am | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Well put, rightospeak. Thank you.

      January 11, 2013 at 2:17 pm | Reply
    • empresstrudy

      That the holocaust didn't occur isn't a 'fact'. Sorry go peddle your Nazi twaddle somewhere else.

      January 11, 2013 at 6:50 pm | Reply
      • rightospeak

        Easy to call people names when you never read one of his books, empress. David Irving was labeled that for telling truth . Here is what he wrote and I quote from his 2008 book " Banged Up" about his imprisonment page 77 : "Of course as any other human being I depreciate the appaling crimes committed by the Nazis against the Jews and others. But I am neither a Nazi nor a Jew, just a British historian trying to establish the truth about the great Jewish tragedy-the how and the what and the why-and so far as it is possible in my own sphere of interest and under the present laws, to publish it too. Without rancor or hatred-just the way I was tought at school."
        He is the best historian that does not mince words and tells inconveniet truths about crimes. For mentioning Jewish crimes he has been labeled holocaust denier and anti-semitic. Anyone that ever mentions Jewish crimes is automatically labeled antisemitic except the Palestinians ,for they can not possibly be antisemitic-they are Semites.

        January 12, 2013 at 10:20 pm |
  11. Middle East News

    Aw, this was an incredibly nice post. Spending some time and actual effort to make a really good article… but what can I say… I procrastinate a lot and never seem to get anything done.

    October 8, 2013 at 6:30 pm | Reply

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