Syrians in “leadership positions” who may be responsible for war crimes have been identified, along with units accused of perpetrating them, United Nations investigators said on Monday.
Both government forces and armed rebels are committing war crimes, including killings and torture, spreading terror among civilians in a nearly two-year-old conflict, they said.
The investigators’ latest report, covering the six months to mid-January, was based on 445 interviews conducted abroad with victims and witnesses, as they have not been allowed into Syria.
The independent team, led by Brazilian Paulo Pinheiro, called on the U.N. Security Council to “act urgently to ensure accountability” for grave violations, possibly by referring the violators to the International Criminal Court for prosecution.
“The ICC is the appropriate institution for the fight against impunity in Syria. As an established, broadly supported structure, it could immediately initiate investigations against authors of serious crimes in Syria,” the 131-page report said.
Is there a substantive, positive outcome of the UN’s recent vote to upgrade Palestinian status? How will this new recognition change the reality on the ground?
At a glance the new found Palestinian status gives the PA legal access to UN and international conventions, entities and treaties. The Israelis are worried their leadership (past and present) will be hauled in front of the ICC (International Criminal Court) in the Hague. While it is unlikely to result in any meaningful convictions, the PR blitz of such actions would be invaluable.
The other side of that very same coin has not been discussed. The Israelis would be free to drag the Palestinian leadership into the ICC as well. Given the fact many acts of terror have proudly ‘owned’ and claimed by the various Palestinian terror groups, the courts may be in a bind. Add to that the reality most western nations consider many of the Palestinian leaders to head terrorist organizations. By their own admission, other Arab states proudly support these organizations an their military ‘operations’, thus validating their terror status. It is more than likely a truce of sorts will be reached- You don’t go after our guys and we won’t go after yours.
So when all is said and done, do the Palestinian population benefit from their diplomatic upgrade? Unless actual peace talks are initiated soon, this exercise will be a case of ‘Deja vu all over again’.
The Palestinian people just can’t catch a break.
The Arabs, I am told, have a saying: “Everything starts small except calamity.” If you think about this aphorism for a minute, a sort of witty definitional wisdom comes through. The problem is that sometimes calamity starts small, too. Yesterday’s United Nations General assembly vote on making Palestine an observer-status state is a good example, most likely. But so is a now two and a half-year-old innovation in the so-called peace process milieu that came from the other, the Israeli side. I note this because even as the newsworthiness of the UNGA vote fades from the newspapers over the next few weeks, that other innovation is going to return to prime time along with the standard rhetorical pyrotechnics of the January 22 Israeli election.
But first things first—the UNGA vote.
As the Obama administration has said countless times both in private and public, this effort by the PA is unhelpful. It said so more than a year ago, and managed to delay the effort, and it said it more recently, as well. And it’s true: It is unhelpful, and the “peace process” really doesn’t need more disadvantages; if it has an abundance of anything, that’s it. (A particularly brilliant essay on the logical structure of the problem appeared in TAI a few years ago, written by a Duke University law professor not particularly known for comment on this subject. I still recommend it very highly.)
Ah, but so what? It isn’t as though some other route to a revived and successful peace process is in prospect, so the vote could easily be dismissed as a marginal tactical stunt. Besides, everybody knows that United Nations is not a place where problems get solved, but a place where either insoluble or trivial issues go to be talked to death by second-rate diplomats with nothing better to do.
This may turn out to be the case, but it’s not obvious that it will. There are at least three reasons to think that this episode will turn out to be more important and more harmful than that.
The exhaustive attempt to track and catalogue war crimes by the Assad regime
The baby’s body was found near a checkpoint on the road that connects Homs with the ancient city of Palmyra, in central Syria, in January. At four months old, she was said to have been given over to a paternal uncle, dead, with bruises on her back, abdomen, and hands. Her parents were missing — the family had gone to the coastal city of Tartus 16 days before, according to a video that shows her lifeless. Male voices on the video accuse Bashar al-Assad’s security forces of torturing and killing the infant after she was arrested along with her family.
We don’t know what really happened, whether her death was intentional or a byproduct of war. We don’t know who the perpetrators were for sure. But we do know that this baby is one of the many that has died in Syria’s ongoing conflict. And we know that no matter how many bodies we count, or don’t, that she is a civilian, one of many documented to have been killed in more than 20 months of fighting.
Nearly a year ago, the United Nations gave up on keeping track of Syria’s dead. Over the summer, the International Committee of the Red Cross declared the conflict a civil war. That means intentional attacks on civilians are now officially considered war crimes under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The question then becomes: How will we know what to prosecute when the fighting dies down if we don’t keep track of crimes against civilians, which are, in most cases, women and children?
That’s where various groups of citizen journalists and social scientists come in. One such crowdsourcing effort, called Syria Tracker, has documented more than 36,000 killings from multiple types of sources as of mid-October, including the above story about the baby killed. I will keep the names of those who run Syria Tracker, which is run by high-level social scientists, anonymous out of respect for their safety. Groups doing this kind of work have already been threatened. But their painstaking documentation, cited by USAID, can potentially tell us a great deal about what may be happening to Syria’s civilians.
Ahead of the United Nations vote that is set to recognize a Palestinian state, Germany has announced it will abstain. The move reveals Berlin’s complicated foreign policy loyalties on the issue — and once again reveals Europe’s inability to reach consensus on a key foreign policy issue.
The United Nations General Assembly is widely expected to recognize a Palestinian state on Thursday, but torn between political loyalties, Germany won’t be among the 193 member countries casting their votes on the controversial issue.
Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle confirmed on Thursday that Germany would abstain on the issue, citing fears that the enhanced status could damage the peace process with Israel.
“In our view, there are doubts about whether the step the Palestinians seek today serves the peace process at this point in time,” Westerwelle said. “We fear that it is more likely to lead to a hardening of the situation.” While Germany supports an independent Palestinian state, this is better achieved through direct negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel, he added.
The Palestinians’ bid is set to enhance their status to “non-member state” — the same position that the Vatican holds — which would grant them recognition as a state in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, areas taken by Israel in 1967. It would also grant them access to the International Criminal Court, where it is thought they might try to bring war crimes charges against Israel.
Both Israel and the United States are strongly opposed to the bid, preferring bilateral negotiations instead, and both could withhold funding to the Palestinians in response. But the Palestinians are confident that they will easily garner the simple majority necessary to pass the measure, having already been recognized as a state by more than two-thirds of UN member states, with many of their sympathizers in the developing world.
Britain is prepared to back a key vote recognising Palestinian statehood at the United Nations if Mahmoud Abbas pledges not to pursue Israel for war crimes and to resume peace talks.
Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, has called for Britain’s backing in part because of its historic responsibility for Palestine. The government has previously refused, citing strong US and Israeli objections and fears of long-term damage to prospects for negotiations.
On Monday night, the government signalled it would change tack and vote yes if the Palestinians modified their application, which is to be debated by the UN general assembly in New York later this week. As a “non-member state”, Palestine would have the same status as the Vatican.
Whitehall officials said the Palestinians were now being asked to refrain from applying for membership of the international criminal court or the international court of justice, which could both be used to pursue war crimes charges or other legal claims against Israel.
Abbas is also being asked to commit to an immediate resumption of peace talks “without preconditions” with Israel. The third condition is that the general assembly’s resolution does not require the UN security council to follow suit.
The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court says she is collecting evidence for filing possible new war crimes charges against supporters and opponents of Moammar Gadhafi during last year’s Libyan civil war.
Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said she expects to decide soon on “the direction” of a possible new case that could see the first charges stemming from the Libyan civil war since the ICC issued arrest warrants for Gadhafi, his son and heir-apparent Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, and intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senoussi in May 2011. They were accused of committing crimes against humanity by targeting civilians in a crackdown against rebels that led to the Libyan leader’s ouster and death.
Libya has challenged the ICC’s right to try Seif al-Islam. Bensouda said she doesn’t expect the tribunal’s judges to take too long to decide whether he should be prosecuted at the court in The Hague, Netherlands, or in his home country.
“I think they will … consider giving clarity to the parties and participants as soon as possible,” she said.
The man accused of having helped orchestrate some of the worst crimes committed by the regime of ex-Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has been extradited back to Libya, according to a Mauritanian government statement.
The communique carried by national radio and on Mauritania’s official news agency said Abdullah al-Senoussi, who ran Gadhafi’s feared intelligence service, was sent back to Libya, giving no further details. An official in the ministry of foreign affairs, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the matter, said that al-Senoussi boarded a special flight at 9 a.m. local time (0900 GMT) and was headed to Tripoli.
Libya, the International Criminal Court as well as France had all asked to try the former intelligence chief, who is known as Gadhafi’s “black box.” He is accused of complicity in the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, as well as the Abu Salim prison massacre of more than 1,200 prisoners by Gadhafi’s regime in 1996.
It’s a story all too familiar.
A government responsible for mass murder, crushing democratic dissent, or engaging in nuclear, chemical, or biological shenanigans gets elected to the U.N. institution responsible for policing just that — whether upholding human rights, democracy, or disarmament.
Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir stands charged by the International Criminal Court with orchestrating a campaign of genocide in Darfur. So what better place to defend oneself than with a seat on the Geneva-based Human Rights Council?
A couple of months back, Sudan was quietly included on a slate of five African countries — the others are Ethiopia, Gabon, Ivory Coast, and Sierra Leone — due to run unchallenged for seats on the 47-member council this November.
The selection of Sudan as a candidate has provided U.N. critics with another example of the U.N.’s abject moral state. In Washington, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs committee issued a statement Monday, saying Sudan’s candidacy shows the U.N. is broken. “As Sudan appears poised to win a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, the UN has hit a new low,” she said. “The UN has surrendered to despots and rogue regimes as it allows the likes of Iran’s Ahmadinejad, Venezuela’s Chavez, and now Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir to corrupt the system and use it to further their own oppressive and despotic schemes.”
Human Rights groups agree that Sudan’s election would be disastrous but they have focused their efforts on persuading African government to drop Sudan. Previous campaigns by Western governments and human rights advocates have succeeded in preventing Azerbaijan, Belarus, Iran, and Syria from getting seats on the council.
It was exactly the kind of case the International Criminal Court was created to investigate: Yemen’s autocratic leader was clinging to power, turning his security forces’ guns on unarmed protesters. Hundreds were left dead, and many more were maimed.
But when Yemen’s Nobel laureate, Tawakkol Karman, traveled to The Hague to ask prosecutors to investigate, she was told the court would first need the approval of the United Nations Security Council. That never happened, and today the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, is living comfortably in Yemen’s capital, still wielding influence.
Now, as the world confronts increasing evidence of atrocities on a much vaster scale in Syria as President Bashar al-Assad’s government battles a growing rebellion, there are signs that Mr. Assad is likely to evade prosecution, much as Mr. Saleh has.
The men have not been prosecuted because they have powerful allies, underlining what critics say are crucial flaws in the court’s setup. That now threatens to undermine the still-fragile international consensus that formed the basis for the court’s creation in 2002: that leaders should be held accountable for crimes against their own people.
Already, the failure to act against some leaders challenged by the Arab Spring is emboldening critics who see the court as just another manifestation of a deeply undemocratic international order. So-called justice, they say, is reserved for outcast leaders, including an assortment of African officials from weak states with few powerful patrons.
The International Criminal Court on Saturday demanded the release of four of its staffers it says are being detained in Libya, where they are part of an official mission sent to meet with the imprisoned son of deposed dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
“We are very concerned about the safety of our staff in the absence of any contact with them,” said court President Sang-Hyun Song in a statement issued in The Hague, Netherlands. “These four international civil servants have immunity when on an official ICC mission.”
The four detained include at least one of two lawyers the court has assigned to help defend the legal interests of Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, who has been held by revolutionary fighters since his capture in November.
Seif al-Islam is at the center of a wrangle between the international court and the new government in Tripoli, both of which have drawn up plans to prosecute him for alleged war crimes.
Under international law, a country has the first right to try suspects for crimes committed on its own soil. But the ICC indicted Seif al-Islam before the fall of his father’s regime and cannot drop his case until it is convinced that Libya’s new government will prosecute him for the same crimes — and that it is capable of giving him a fair trial.