Justice for Syria: NPWJ and NRPTT welcome French initiative on ICC Referral

16 Apr, 2014 | Press Releases

Brussels-Rome, 16 April 2014

France is increasingly becoming the focal point for diplomatic activities around a possible referral of Syria to the ICC. Last week, France requested a meeting of the United Nations Security Council on the situation of human rights in Syria, during which UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay briefed the Council, reiterating previous statements that there is “massive evidence” that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed. Ms Pillay indicated that according to their information, responsibility lies at the highest level; she again called for a referral to the ICC. Yesterday, France convened an “Arria-formula” meeting, which is an informal, confidential gathering of Security Council members, to consider a January report by a team of legal and forensic experts about the alleged torture and execution of detainees by the Syrian Government. This meeting provided an opportunity to raise the importance of accountability for crimes committed in Syria and voice support for an ICC role. Syria is not a State Party to the ICC. The Court therefore has no jurisdiction over crimes committed in Syria, unless there is a referral from the Security Council or Syria itself refers the situation.

Statement by Alison Smith, Legal Counsel and Director of the International Criminal Justice Program of No Peace Without Justice:

“No Peace Without Justice (NPWJ) and the Nonviolent Radical Party, Transnational and Transparty (NRPTT) welcome France’s leading initiative at the UN Security Council to raise the bar for accountability and justice for acts committed during the present conflict and refer the situation in the Syrian Arab Republic to the International Criminal Court (ICC) without exceptions and irrespective of the perpetrators.

“We urge France to continue its diplomatic efforts and take all necessary steps to deposit a draft resolution doing just that and Security Council members and other countries alike to express support for it. While it is more than likely that Council members who are close allies with President Bashar al-Assad, in particular Russia, will use their veto-power to oppose the resolution, it could mark a turning point in addressing the blatant abuses that have marked the Syrian conflict. It could also force reluctant Council Members to justify their moral and political blessing to the ongoing atrocities and their turning a blind eye to perpetrators acting with total impunity.

“For the past three years, Syria has witnessed crimes against humanity, war crimes and other gross human rights violations, which continue to be perpetrated with increasing frequency and total impunity. So far, all of the diplomatic initiatives launched by the international community have failed to protect civilians and to restore peace in Syria; they have also failed to initiate a process of political transition that would, after 40 years of dictatorship, bring democratic and open institutions to the Syrian people.

“Since the beginning of the conflict, NPWJ and the NRPTT have consistently advocated for violence not to be rewarded as a legitimate path to power and political leverage. Being firm on accountability is the best way to break the cycle of impunity that is ravaging Syria and to encourage the fighters to abide by international conventions and the laws of war, particularly those that protect civilians. Sound, impartial and effective accountability and monitoring mechanisms for violations of fundamental rights must be put in place, alongside the prosecution of those who bear responsibility for the worst crimes against the civilian population in Syria. This is crucial to allow a peaceful and shared solution to the crisis and a political transition towards democracy.

“We call on all UN member States to support the French initiative and, if there is an ICC referral, to commit fully all necessary resources and support to any subsequent efforts to investigate crimes and to facilitate the execution of potential arrest warrants. Only through responsive and reliable actions, put in place by a cohesive international community, will it be finally possible to remove the dark clouds looming in the Syrian skies”.

NPWJ’s Syria Project on Justice and Accountability
NPWJ project aims at reducing the expectation and rewards of impunity and at building a culture of accountability. The purpose is to equip citizens to demand accountability and justice for violations taking place on a daily basis for the past two and a half years and, at the same time, to equip the judiciary and legal profession to answer that demand. The mainstay of the project is a series of advocacy and training events, which are being held in Gaziantep, Turkey, near the Syrian border, with Syrian judges, lawyers and civil society activists from Syria who can bring the skills and (perhaps more importantly) aspirations for justice back to their work and their constituents inside Syria. The long-term goal of this project is to promote democracy and human rights protection through incorporating justice and accountability in decision-making on conflict resolution and stability, development, and reconstructing planning in Syria. The project’s strategic objective is to support Syrian civil society playing an active role on justice and accountability issues, including advocacy and documenting human rights violations, including receiving, gathering, collecting, collating, processing and securely storing information, documentation and materials and analyse it for the purpose of establishing what happened and reconstructing decision-making processes that resulted in violations international humanitarian and human rights law in Syria since March 2011.

For further information, please contact Alison Smith on asmith@npwj.org or +32-(0)2-548-3912 or Nicola Giovannini on ngiovannini@npwj.org or +32-(0)2-548-3915.