Potential for ICC role in Syria

UntitledMembers of Congress last week heard a concise and valuable account of how the International Criminal Court could aid efforts to hold wrongdoers in Syria’s civil war accountable.

Use the court as “a ‘reference point’ for the national system,” Richard Dicker, Director of the International Justice Program for Human Rights Watch urged in Wednesday’s testimony before House subcommittees on Africa and the Middle East & North Africa. (Video/screenshot credit here; text of Dicker’s remarks here.) Dicker was among 5 men who testified at the hearing, entitled “Establishing a Syrian War Crimes Tribunal?”

To that question, Dicker answered “No.” He said:

‘[T]he solution most likely to provide justice is not a stand-alone ad hoc tribunal for Syria.’

He then listed “practical obstacles” learned from precedent examples like the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Even putting to one side the precarious security situation in still-at-war Syria, delay would be inevitable in devising a legal framework, finding and setting up facilities, recruiting personnel, and gaining state cooperation; indeed, Dicker contended that the time lag and expense likely would “be more costly than if a permanent institution is tasked with investigation and prosecution.”

The institution to which he pointed is the ICC – that is, an ICC given the needed resources to commit fully to constructing investigations that could deter further offenses, while preparing affected communities for meaningful accountability at national as well as international levels. (This resources issue is addressed in the 2012-2015 Strategic Plan just released by the ICC Office of the Prosecutor, and in prior posts on Syria and on the ICC.) Also essential, Dicker told the assembled U.S. Representatives, would be candid and open support of the United States:

‘[T]he US government should make clear its position on the ICC instead of demurring behind concerns that Russia and/or China would veto any Security Council resolution which aimed to refer the situation in Syria to the ICC. … There are now 64 countries supporting such a referral, including six Security Council members, so the administration would be smart to at least begin talking about how the court can play a constructive role.’

He pressed his audience to prod the Executive Branch:

‘[T]he administration’s overall justice strategy on Syria should take the ICC into account. Congress is well placed to press the administration on this point and I hope these subcommittees will consider doing so.’

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