Justice in Syria: 5 ways to prosecute international crime

Representative Image of Syrians. Photo: Reuters

The conflict in Syria has seen atrocities committed by all sides for six long years. Barbarities are an everyday occurrence.

There are rules governing the conduct of warring parties. The 1949 Geneva Conventions form the core of international humanitarian law. Violating these rules is a war crime. Some atrocities go even beyond this level of criminality. Genocide, for instance, is an international crime in itself, while the systematic killing of political opposition would constitute a crime against humanity.

The existence of these offences counts for little, of course, unless the law is enforced. This raises the question: is there any way of prosecuting any side of the Syrian conflict? These are some options that could help inform the way forward.

1. International Criminal Court investigation

The International Criminal Court (ICC), based in the Hague, is designed to prosecute “the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole”. So perhaps it could act in Syria.

The court operates on a consensual basis, so that (perhaps counterintuitively) states must sign up to it to allow the exercise of ICC jurisdiction. Syria is not a party to the court.

There is a workaround though. The ICC can investigate international crimes in any country if the UN Security Council requests it to do so. This happened to Sudan in 2005 and Libya in 2011. Despite best efforts by lobbying states, the same has not happened in the case of Syria. Both Russia and China blocked a proposed referral in 2014 and there is little sign of them changing their minds.

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