Dozens of countries call on UN to refer Syria to International Criminal Court

The UN Security Council must immediately refer the situation in Syria to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in line with a request made this morning in a new letter by dozens of UN member states, Amnesty International said this evening

In a joint letter to the Security Council, Switzerland and 56 other states from all continents made the plea, noting the Syrian authorities’ failure to investigate and prosecute crimes against humanity and war crimes committed since March 2011.

Since then, according to the letter, “the situation on the ground has only become more desperate, with attacks on the civilian population and the commission of atrocities having become almost the norm”. In the case of an ICC referral, continues the letter, the Security Council is called up to “fully commit the necessary resources … to any subsequent efforts to investigate crimes and to facilitate the executions of potential arrest warrants”. Read the full letter

Amnesty began calling for the situation to be referred to the ICC Prosecutor as early as April 2011, a call echoed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Security Council has so far failed to act on such calls, only saying that “those responsible for the violence should be held accountable.” Russia and China in particular have blocked resolutions which would have allowed greater international pressure on the Syrian authorities. 

In addition to the ICC referral, Amnesty has repeatedly called on all states to exercise universal jurisdiction over those suspected of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria.

Amnesty International’s UN Representative in New York José Luis Díaz said:

“A referral to the ICC must be made immediately to ensure that persons from all sides are investigated and - where there is sufficient admissible evidence - prosecuted for the most serious crimes under international law.

“The Security Council’s weak rhetoric on Syria has failed to achieve any justice for victims, and has given human rights violators free rein to carry on committing serious crimes under international law without facing any consequences.

“A continued failure to act would send a disturbing message that the international community has lost the will to protect civilians from harm in conflict.”

Since the beginning of the unrest in Syria Amnesty has documented systematic as well as widespread human rights violations which amount to crimes against humanity. There is evidence of serious violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes, carried out by the Syrian authorities. Armed opposition groups, including those associated with the Free Syrian Army, have also been accused of committing violations of international humanitarian law, including potential war crimes, among them hostage-taking and the unlawful killings of captives.

A UN-backed independent international Commission of Inquiry has also found evidence of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Syria.

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