Calls for Reform of the UN to Protect Civilians from International Atrocities

Lately there has been a resurgent in the calls from the international community for reform of the United Nations (UN) system in order to better protect populations from mass atrocities. This year commemorates the 70th anniversary of the United Nation’s founding in 1945, which was created to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,” but it has sparked debate about the functioning of the different bodies of the UN.

©UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

©UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Yesterday, Amnesty International released its 2014/2015 annual report urging the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (the UK, China, France, Russia and the US) to renounce their power of veto in situations of genocide and other mass atrocities.

Salil Shetty, the organisation’s Secretary General, said in a statement that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) had “miserably failed” to protect civilians and that the UNSC permanent members had used their veto to “promote their political self-interest or geopolitical interest above the interest of protecting civilians.”

A week earlier, Madeleine Albright, chair of the Advisory Council of The Hague Institute for Global Justice and former US Secretary of State, voiced her concern about the world’s attempt to uphold an international order which came into place 70 years ago while an “awful lot of things have changed in the meantime.” Continue reading

Russia and China Veto Security Council Resolution on Syria Referral to ICC

UN Security Council (c) UN/Evan Schneider

UN Security Council (c) UN/Evan Schneider

Today, at 10h00 New York time, the UN Security Council voted on a draft resolution introduced by France to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The resolution failed to pass when Russia and China, permanent members of the Council, vetoed the resolution.

Samantha Power, US Ambassador to the UN, in her statement following the vote criticised Russia and China for impeding access to justice for the

Syrian people. She also emphasised the importance of holding Russia and China to account:

“While there may be no ICC accountability today, there should be accountability for those members of this Council that have prevented

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accountability.”

The US agreed to support the resolution after ensuring that Israel would be protected from prosecution before the Court in relation to its occupation of Golan Heights in Syria. Responding to criticisms that the resolution was biased, Power said:

“I agree. [The resolution] was biased in favour of establishing facts, tilted in favour of establishing peace.”

The veto has been called an “endorsement of impunity” by the Lithuanian representative and “disgraceful” by the United Kingdom.

The result is unlikely to come as a surprise following the statement made yesterday by Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s Ambassador to the UN, who called the resolution:

“simply a publicity stunt which will have a detrimental effect, unfortunately, on our joint efforts in trying to resolve politically the crisis in Syria.”

Today’s vote marked the fourth veto of the Syrian situation in the last three years.

Since Syria is not a party to the Rome Statute of the ICC, the Court may only exercise its jurisdiction over the situation if Syria were to accept the jurisdiction of the Court by way of an Article 12(3) declaration or the Security Council were to refer the situation to it.

Syria Torture Photos Displayed at the UN Security Council

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) yesterday examined photographs of about 11,000 Syrians said to have been tortured, starved and killed by the Syrian government’s forces.

Tramline bruises are produced by blows with rod-like objects, the report explains. ©Carter-Ruck and Co.

Tramline bruises are produced by blows with rod-like objects, the report explains. ©Carter-Ruck and Co.

Most of the photographs were collected by a Syrian military police photographer, code-named Caesar, who smuggled them out on flash drives when he defected and joined an anti-Assad opposition group. “Caesar”, a crime scene photographer for the Syrian military police, was assigned in 2001 to photograph corpses at a military hospital that received bodies from three detention centres in the Damascus suburbs. In his testimony, the photographer described a highly bureaucratic system:

“The procedure was that when detainees were killed at their places of detention their bodies would be taken to a military hospital to which he would be sent with a doctor and a member of the judiciary, Caesar’s function being to photograph the corpses… There could be as many as 50 bodies a day to photograph which require 15 to 30 minutes of work per corpse,” the report said. “The reason for photographing executed persons was twofold. First to permit a death certificate to be produced without families requiring to see the body, thereby avoiding the authorities having to give a truthful account of their deaths; second to confirm that orders to execute individuals had been carried out.” Continue reading