Syria: One year since Russia & China blocked the ICC

One year ago today Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution which would have referred the horrendous situation in Syria to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.

That callous move compounded the misery for millions of suffering people in Syria (not to mention millions of refugees from Syria who are suffering in different ways outside of the country). In preventing the ICC from investigating war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by all sides to the conflict, they prevented some level of deterrence against the horrific crimes still being committed with impunity right now.

What Russia and China did was to embolden those committing war crimes and other human rights abuses – not only Assad’s forces dropping barrel bombs filled with shrapnel on schools, hospitals and rescue workers in places like Aleppo, but the genocidal thugs in ISIS, currently marauding through Syria, and now in the ancient city of Palmyra.

A year on and tens of thousands more civilians have been injured or killed, more refugees have been created, and Syria and the wider region is a much more dangerous and unstable place.

Less visible crimes (but equally distressing for families and friends) like arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, torture and deaths in custody continue in Syria because those committing these crimes feel they can get away with it. Russia and China will have to take some level of responsibility for this.

So will the situation in Syria ever be referred to the ICC’s Prosecutor? It seems unlikely right now but that shouldn’t (and won’t) stop campaigns for international justice. In the meantime, those who care about human rights and justice should increase material support, including funding and training, for Syrian human rights organisations that are at great risk documenting violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in the Syrian conflict, and they should help build the capacity of such groups to gather and share objective and impartial information. 

Key states, including the UK, could also accept a shared responsibility to investigate and prosecute war crimes and other crimes under international law committed in Syria. In particular, they could seek to exercise universal jurisdiction over these crimes before national courts in fair trials. 

Russia and China got their way at the Security Council a year ago – and millions of Syrians have suffered the consequences since. It’s important the so-called international community ensures justice becomes a reality for Syrians and is not another empty slogan in a long list of empty slogans uttered by those purporting to be “friends of Syria”.

Kristyan Benedict is on Twitter as @KreaseChan

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