Are European prosecutions the answer to on-going impunity in Syria?

08 March 2016 by Stephanie van den Berg, The Hague (The Netherlands)

Parallel to calls for the establishment of an international tribunal to address alleged war crimes committed in Syria [IJT-169], many European countries say they have stepped up screening procedures to weed out possible war criminals amid the influx of Syrian refugees. The Netherlands, which has been somewhat of a pioneer in this regard, last week announced that in 2015 they denied asylum to 10 Syrian nationals because they are suspected of committing war crimes. But past experience points to a wide gap between identifying potential perpetrators and actually bringing them to justice.

Refugees arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos in September 2015 (Photo: Flickr/Ben White - CAFOD)
Image caption: 
Refugees arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos in September 2015 (Photo: Flickr/Ben White - CAFOD)

While prosecution in Syria or by an international tribunal seems far off, NGOs and other stakeholders are increasingly looking towards national prosecutions in asylum countries to end the prevailing sense of impunity for President Bashar al-Assad’s alleged atrocities.

“We believe that pushing for national prosecutions of Syrian suspects who come as asylum seekers is very important. Right now it’s the only kind of accountability we have. Other avenues, like a referral to the International Criminal Court, which we prefer, or setting up a Syria tribunal, are blocked,” Géraldine Mattioli-Zeltner, of Human Rights Watch’s International Justice Program, told IJT.

The Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA) has been working to gather prosecution-ready case files and has over a million pages of documents. It operates as a kind of office of the prosecutor in exile for a prospective Syria tribunal. But it also shares information with national prosecutors in the EU.

Want to read more?

If you subscribe to a free membership, you can read this article and explore our full archive, dating back to 1997.

Subscribe now

Related articles

article
21 December 2011 by Thijs Bouwknegt

Being the ICC's Chief Prosecutor is a delicate and politically sensitivejob.ForLuisMorenoOcampo it has been "the best job in the world." Fatou Bensouda will be taking over his office in June. She inhe

article
07 December 2011 by Thijs Bouwknegt

December 7, 2011 Ivory Coast is the latest playgroundoftheInternationalCriminal Court. This week the courtroom in The Hague became its theatre of justice. Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo proudly p

article
07 December 2011 by Richard Walker

Four Congolese witnesses testifying at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, find themselves caught in a legal wrangle, which could at once set a legal precedent and make them the last

article
07 December 2011 by Lindy Janssen

Brazil is booming. The economy is expanding and the country is getting ready to host the Football World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016. But the Latin American giant has not even begun dealing wi

article
07 December 2011 by Radosa Milutinovic

The primary purpose of the retrial of Ramush Haradinaj, as proclaimed by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in its appeal judgement in July, should have been to hear testimonies of two "key" witnesses who proved unwilling to testify in the original trial in 2007. Almost four months into the retrial which started in mid-August, its stated aim has not yet been achieved.