With no deterrence to atrocities, Syria will continue to fragment
By Kristyan Benedict - Amnesty International UK
On October 6 I spoke on a panel at the Frontline Club about the horrific Caesar photos and the ongoing search for justice and accountability in Syria. Below is a summary (somewhat re-written for this blog) of some of my opening comments. You can watch the full event in the video above.
Let me start by saying something obvious – Syria is disintegrating and Syrian civilians are living through the worst mass atrocities of the 21st century. Those primarily responsible are the people committing war crimes with an absolute sense of impunity. The people facilitating the war crimes. Others who justify the war crimes. And unfortunately, the many people turning a blind eye to the war crimes. Reversing this terrible trend is obviously key to effectively protecting civilians and ensuring that a stable and secure Syria can emerge from this chaos and lawlessness.
How? - well there are several options, but one key element - not the only one of course - must be credible justice. And as far as Amnesty International’s concerned, this should preferably come via the International Criminal Court at The Hague.
Of course that route has previously been blocked by Russia and China in May 2014, and since that incredibly callous and irresponsible decision to create some form of deterrence for mass atrocities hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled their homes, many of these as internally-displaced people within Syria, and many as refugees outside the country. And as we know, many of those desperate and often traumatised refugees have been forced to make the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean and as we know, many of those have died.
And it’s even worse inside Syria. Tens of thousands of Syrians have died since Russia and China blocked a possible investigation by the ICC and many thousands more are still languishing in government detention centres. As Caesar’s photos so graphically remind us, many of these detainees are being starved and tortured to death in the most horrible fashion.
However the accountability track is not dead. Investigations are still ongoing and evidence gathering is still occurring inside Syria in the hope - and expectation - that one day those responsible for mass atrocities will be held to account. And that means wherever they are in the command structures of the different parties to the conflict.
Those investigations, whether by the UN-mandated Independent International Commission of Inquiry or the Commission for International Justice and Accountability, need to continue and they need more support and funding to enable them to do their vital work.
So yes the situation is presently bleak and yes the prospect of credible justice and of the perpetrators of atrocities being held to account is still far away. With virtually no effective deterrents in place, Syria will almost certainly continue to fragment in an extremely violent way. And Syrian civilians will almost certainly be made to endure unimaginable human suffering in what is the worst human rights and humanitarian crisis of our century.
Too many people, mainly - but not exclusively - in the Syrian government and ISIS, feel they can get away with murder and torture. They feel that no-one and nothing will hold them to account, and no-one will be able stop them. Couple that lethal culture of impunity with a culture of fear and we have a toxic kill-or-be-killed mentality driving Syrians further into the abyss.
Belligerents need to feel some heat. They need to feel that one day they will be held to account. Because ultimately, you can't effectively protect civilians or build a stable and secure Syria on the basis of massive injustice and impunity. It just doesn’t work.
Sign our petition demanding the Syrian government allows independent monitors into the country to inspect prisons and detention centres where thousands of civilians are being held.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.