Skip to main content
Amnesty International UK
Log in

The countries that support referring Syria to the International Criminal Court - and some absent 'friends'

A UN Security Council referral of the miserable situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) is vital but is far from certain.

Like many other disappointments ordinary Syrians have had to endure from the so-called international community, the appeals for justice, that people should not be allowed to get away with war crimes and crimes against humanity - is still, largely, being ignored by the worlds nations, including, on balance, by the UN Security Council and the “Friends of Syria”. This has given rise to glaring impunity for the perpetrators - yet another part of the Syrian tragedy.

Why an ICC referral matters

A referral to the ICC would tell President al-Assad and those around him, those carrying out his orders, that they will be held accountable for directing and carrying out the most extreme crimes against Syrian civilians. It would signal that they would be held to account for their punishment, humiliation and terrorising of people who demand their freedoms and their human rights. This message also applies to all opposition groups, whether considered “moderate” or “extreme” (and everything in between) who have or are committing human rights abuses. It’s very encouraging that the Syrian Opposition Coalition has called for an ICC referral though.

People often underestimate the deterrent effect a referral would have – try asking senior Syrian officials with blood on their hands or the leaders of groups like ISIS and Jabhat al Nusra if they would feel confident in a dock at The Hague.

Conversely, the Security Council’s failure to act is itself sending a wholly unwanted signal to the parties in the Syrian conflict (and to other countries and non state actors in other conflicts) that they can commit human rights abuses and get away with them – safe in the knowledge that the Security Council (as a whole) will go on ignoring its clear responsibility to protect civilians.

Somewhat more positively, though, is the fact that two permanent members of the Security Council - the UK and France - publicly support an ICC referral; Russia, the US and China have meanwhile refrained from any such move. Russia has of course been most vocal in its opposition, saying a referral would be “ill-timed and counterproductive”.

Again, on the positive side, is the fact that the text of the current draft Security Council resolution proposed by France includes this line:

15. Decides to refer the situation in Syria since March 2011 to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court

The worry is that this vital call may be dropped in an effort to achieve consensus over a resolution principally focused on enforcing the implementation of the US / Russia chemical weapons deal. For further information on the importance of an ICC referral, see this recent Human Rights Watch Q&A.

So which delegations to the UN actually support an ICC referral?

There are currently 64 countries in support of the move. These are:

Albania, Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Benin, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Botswana, Bulgaria, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chile, Cyprus, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Cote d’Ivoire, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Ghana, Germany, Greece, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Maldives, Malta, Marshall Islands, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Samoa, San Marino, Sierra Leone, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Tunisia, United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland and Uruguay.

You can see what this looks like in the map above and attached.

How does this compare with the “Friends of Syria” group though? At the end of 2012 there were some 114 states represented. The most recent meetings have been represented by 11 core states: Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and the United States. Out of these, only four “friends” of Syria support an ICC referral out of the 11.

Supporting ICC referral

Not currently supporting ICC referral







United Kingdom

Saudi Arabia




United Arab Emirates


United States

As for current members of the UN Security Council, six countries out of 15 support an ICC referral. (Permanent members of the Council in bold below).

Supporting ICC referral

Not currently supporting ICC referral



United Kingdom

Russian Federation


United States





Republic of Korea








This data can of course be split many ways. For instance, several countries which have their own tragic histories of mass atrocities are currently missing from the list of delegations to the UN supporting ICC referral – these include Rwanda, Cambodia, Israel, Palestine, the DRC and Armenia, to name just a few. There are many others.

A quick glance of the map also shows that just Tunisia and Libya support a referral out of the entire Middle East and North Africa region.

Given the entrenchment of impunity that the UN’s “permanent five” arrangement has allowed since the Security Council’s establishment in 1946, hopes that all of these five will now see the necessity and logic of an ICC referral are slim. However, there is still a chance for civil society and politicians in all these “No” countries to make their voices heard in support of credible justice for all Syrians and a long overdue UNSC referral to the ICC. 


Kristyan Benedict is on Twitter as @KreaseChan

About Amnesty UK Blogs
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.
View latest posts
1 comment

i think we must stop crime of children first in Syria this very important

scosudan 10 years ago