International experts debate Syria war crimes

Experts interviewed on Al Arabiya’s “Diplomatic Avenue” discussed the possibility of involving the ICC in the Syrian crisis

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France took the first steps this month toward proposing a Security Council resolution that would refer Syria to the International Criminal Court, amid fears that Russia may well veto such a resolution.

Experts interviewed by Al Arabiya’s New York Bureau Chief Talal al-Haj this week, in his show the “Diplomatic Avenue,” discussed the possibility of involving the ICC in the Syrian crisis and the possible alternatives to achieve justice for all sides in the war-torn country.

For its part, France convened an informal meeting of the UNSC earlier in April to examine thousands of photographs of Syrians who were purportedly tortured by the Syrian government. The pictures viewed in the meeting were smuggled out of the country by a former military police photographer and were reported as part of France’s bid to refer the Syrian crisis to the ICC.

Sir Desmond De Silva, a prominent British lawyer and former chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, spoke on the difficulty of referring the Syrian case to the ICC because of the Russian veto.

De Silva also chaired the U.N. picture-viewing session organized by France.

“Syria is not a member of the ICC and getting Syria to the ICC is very difficult. The alternatives could be that the Security Council refers [the case] to the International Court. The problem is that Russia uses its veto right to stop such procedure,” he said.

De Silva said Russia could accept referring evidence of violations committed during the Syrian crisis to the court, if cases blaming both sides of the conflict are presented.

“However, if the resolution is to refer both sides, there may be a difference,” he said, adding that Russia, an ally of the Syrian government, has constantly blamed the Syrian opposition of committing crimes against humanity in the conflict.

“The Russians won’t object both sides being referred to the ICC,” he said.

De Silva supported the idea of establishing an international court with international prosecutors to look into the Syrian case if all efforts to refer it to the ICC fail.

For his part, the Syrian National Coalition’s representative in Washington, Najib al-Ghadban, said there are many difficulties associated with establishing a separate international court.

Al-Ghadban said the potential court would need support from the EU, and added that such courts also require financial support.

“It needs friendly countries to sponsor it,” Al-Ghadban said.

Kuwait’s ambassador the U.N. in New York, Mansour al-Otaibi, said the country would not hesitate in supporting such a court if the international community decides to go ahead with it.

When asked by al-Haj if Kuwait could financially sponsor the court, al-Otaibi said it is too early to discuss financial sponsorship when the international community has not yet reached a final decision.

In the same vein, Luis Moreno Ocampo, former prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), said Russia should support France’s bid to refer the Syrian case to the ICC.
Ocampu spoke on the complications of the ongoing crisis in Syria, saying the conflict’s consequences may have been mitigated had the ICC been involved.

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