The Security Council Must Act on Syria.
The members of the United Nations Security Council must unite to bring the Syrian tragedy before the International Criminal Court.
The Syrian crisis is the most severe humanitarian crisis since the Rwandan genocide in 1994. In three years, more than 150,000 people have lost their lives, including 10,000 children, while 6.5 million civilians have been internally displaced and almost three million have sought refuge in neighboring countries.
Even war has rules. In Syria, these rules are flouted on a daily basis. Chemical weapons are being used; they killed 1,400 civilians in a single night on Aug. 21 last year. Barrel bombs have been used against schools. Attacks are committed against thousands of innocent civilians. Sexual violence against women is used as a weapon of war. Torture is used on detainees in the tens of thousands. International law characterizes these atrocities as war crimes and as crimes against humanity. If a scale of horror existed, these would be the most serious crimes.
As of today, those in Syria responsible for these crimes are not subject to prosecution. They are not tried, they are not sentenced. They continue on with full impunity.
But holding the perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity accountable for their actions is a way of obtaining justice for the victims. It is also a deterrent to those who continue to commit such actions. Sooner or later, they will be judged.
An institution exists that is capable of investigating these crimes and punishing those who commit them: the International Criminal Court (ICC). That is why France has decided to submit a draft resolution to the U.N. Security Council referring the situation in Syria to the ICC.
Syria did not ratify the founding statute of the ICC and therefore does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction over its territory. But the Security Council has the power to involve the ICC by adopting a resolution that refers the situation in Syria to the court and authorizes its prosecutor to conduct investigations and issue arrest warrants. The Security Council has already used this right twice in the past decade: to punish atrocities committed in Darfur and Libya. Now is the time to use this option for the Syrian tragedy.
Is the resolution likely to be adopted, given that previous efforts on Syria have been vetoed in the Security Council?
The resolution that we’re proposing, with the support of a number of countries, is different: It targets all crimes committed in Syria, regardless of the perpetrators, and refers the matter to the ICC so that it can investigate the tragedy that has been unfolding in Syria since March 2011. The Syrian regime may have blood on its hands, but this resolution will not overlook the crimes committed by other groups.
The resolution focuses on the law. It is not a political resolution. It responds to the moral and political obligation to combat impunity. It is based on the responsibility to punish those who flout the elementary principles of humanity.
This is therefore a text that will bring people together. When the resolution is presented for a vote, the question each of the Security Council’s 15 member states must answer will be simple: Am I for or against a system of justice charged with punishing those who, in the Syrian crisis, are responsible for crimes against humanity and war crimes?
As we examine this question, we must each assume our responsibilities, in the eyes of history and before the community of nations.
The United Nations was founded in 1945 precisely to oppose barbarity with the force of law. This fundamental principle cannot have been forgotten since then. That’s why, unless some member states want to protect heinous crimes, it makes sense that another veto can be avoided and that the Security Council members can come to an agreement. We must finally be able to refer the Syrian matter to the International Criminal Court.