A bipartisan group of U.S. congressmen have introduced a resolution calling for the creation of a Syrian War Crimes Tribunal. The proposal calls for the establishment of an ad hoc tribunal to prosecute individuals responsible for war crimes in the increasingly violent civil war taking place in Syria. The resolution suggests that an international ad hoc tribunal should be set-up using precedents such as the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
The resolution (H.CON.RES.51) seeks President Barack Obama to use the ‘voice and vote of the United States’ at the United Nations in order to immediately establish an ad hoc tribunal to hold accountable perpetrators of crimes against humanity committed in Syria. The resolution is aimed at the direct prosecution of Bashar Al-Assad for his alleged use of chemical weapons in Ghouta last month.
The resolution was proposed on 9 September 2013 and is currently being considered by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs which will decide whether to introduce the resolution for a vote by Congress. The resolution has already been supported by two Democratic and eight Republican members of Congress.
The Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s human rights panel, who introduced the bill, has noted that “there is a non-lethal way to help ensure that Bashar al-Assad and other perpetrators of atrocities in Syria are held to account-not someday far in the future-but beginning now.” The bipartisan group suggests that this non-lethal route is the formation of an ad hoc tribunal.
Proponents of the resolution see the formation of an ad hoc court as a non-violent means to offer justice to victims/families of victims who have suffered at the hands of the Syrian government. As Syria has not yet ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the existing international court does not have jurisdiction over crimes against humanity and war crimes which have taken place during the civil war in Syria.
Even if the motion for the Syrian War Crimes Tribunal was successfully passed by the U.S. Congress, its actual consequence is highly debatable. Given the level of political deadlock within the United Nations in relation to authorising a military intervention in Syria, it is likely that the U.S. will face a great challenge in persuading the veto-holding Member States to endorse a resolution to create the ad hoc tribunal.