Planning for accountability in Syria – with Syrians or not
A justice mechanism to deal with the Syrian conflict has seemed low on the world’s agenda. This week brought news of US government funding cuts for a widely commended NGO gathering Syrian war crimes evidence. The Russian and Chinese vetoes of a Syria referral by the UN Security Council to the International Criminal Court keep a trial in The Hague unlikely. And it is hard to focus on accountability when the YouTubed horror films of ISIS have all but upstaged Assad regime atrocities and the Syrian opposition seems locked in an endless cycle of reincarnation.
But accountability is not off the table. As put by Michael Scharf, managing director of the Public International Law & Policy Group, a pro bono global law firm: “While events related to ISIS have temporarily eclipsed the issue, there has been a lot of action behind the scenes in the past year related to establishing accountability for Syrian atrocities.”
In fact, the groundwork for possible indictments and prosecutions has already been laid out. Meanwhile, the barbarities continue to be documented almost in real time. “A determined push for accountability” is how Balkees Jarrah, a counsel who focuses on the Middle East for Human Rights Watch, summed up the situation.
Justice via New Jersey?
Former prosecutor-turned-academic David Crane, for one, is ready to take Syrian accountability to what he calls “its next logical step”. Best-known for indicting Charles Taylor at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, Crane has since become a vocal lobbyist for Syria. He leads the Syrian Accountability Project, which aims to document war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by all sides in the conflict.