UN: War Crimes being Committed in Syria’s East Ghouta

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Reuters reports that Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, warned Syrian (and Russian?) officials that there is credible evidence that they are committing war crimes in East Ghouta, and perhaps crimes against humanity.

A war crime is a single action that violates international laws on the conduct of war, typically involving atrocities against non-combatants. It is analogous to murder in civil law.

A crime against humanity is a systematic pattern of the commission of war crimes. It is more like serial killing.

Al-Hussein warned that the UN human rights commission is collecting evidence on the culpability of particular individuals, in hopes that eventually they can be brought to trial.

Al-Hussein is among the architects of the International Criminal Court, which is authorized by the Rome Statute that entered into effect in 2002, and the charter of which lays out what war crimes and crimes against humanity are. Some 123 countries have signed it, giving it the force of law in much of the world.

Commenting on Paragraph 1, which forbids deliberately targeting noncombatants, the statute specifies, “(a) “Attack directed against any civilian population” means a course of conduct involving the multiple commission of acts referred to in paragraph 1 against any civilian population, pursuant to or in furtherance of a State or organizational policy to commit such attack…”

The ICC is only authorized to build cases against individuals, not against governments, and can only do so where the state to which those individuals belong is a signatory of the Rome Statute. The exception is where the UN Security Council forwards a case from a non-signatory country to the ICC, as it did in the case of Muammar al-Gaddafi of Libya. Most former officials tried by the ICC have been deposed African dictators, which has provoked criticism from global South critics.

Since Syria has not signed the Rome Statute and since Russia has a veto on the Security Council, the likelihood of Syrian or Russian officials ever being tried for war crimes committed in Syria is slim. It is not impossible, however, that at some point some criminal official could be arrested in a third country. At least they won’t be able to vacation with any sense of safety on Spain’s Costa del Sol.

Al-Hussein’s forceful warning, however, is important, since states must not be allowed with impunity to starve out civilians, bombard hospitals and kindergartens with reckless disregard for noncombatant life, or even target civilians as a war strategy. If the world won’t intervene to stop crimes against humanity, at the very least we should forcefully and publicly denounce them.

Al-Hussein has Swedish and Jordanian heritage and is a member of the Jordanian royal family.


Bonus video:

AFP: “Medical facilities await aid in Syria’s besieged Ghouta”

Posted in Featured,Syria | 5 Responses | Print |

5 Responses

  1. Of course the UN and the US are totally silent about the war crimes being committed in Afrin by our NATO ally Turkey.

  2. Assad is actually taking a page from American war strategy. He has already lost well over 200K soldiers and can ill afford more losses. We have used air power and bombing since WWII as a means to avoid casualties. In such reports on Ghouta very little blame is put on the al-Qaeda militants, who are not only mostly foreign invaders, but holding residents as hostages and shields (another war crime). I am not letting Assad and the SAA off lightly, but they also have few options under the circumstances.

  3. And they got away with it. The Russia propaganda machine each day spews out more nonsense about what’s going on in Syria. For their part, the Ba’athists are living down to the low standards established in the 70s by the Assad family. The lies come fast and furious.

    Meanwhile, on the ground, footage from the “liberated” areas reveal no shortage of smiling and outwardly happy civilians, passionately proclaiming their love and support for Bashar. Just as they’ve been doing since the days when Nebuchadnezzar’s armies criss-crossed the region- one of the first perpetrators of war crimes.

    And they got away with it.

  4. I always used to think Assad is the better option to his alternatives, but the more this war goes on and the more people die, I grow less and less certain of this perspective. As a Shiite Muslim myself, I was appalled by Khamenei’s statement last week praising Assad’s resistance, it’s one thing to deal with him because the alternatives suck, but to praise him? That’s downright shameful. That the majority of the people fighting Assad are not good people is true, but the more civilians and the more warcrimes are committed in fighting these people, the less convincing the argument that if the rebels take over Syria, minorities will be killed, women will lose rights becomes. You’re basically saying that it is fine to kill as many innocent civilians as it takes to prevent groups from coming to power that will kill minorities (civilians again). How exactly do you have the moral high ground then? You don’t. The Israelis make the same argument about giving Palestinian land back, they say that all Jews will be killed so the occupation is necessary, and we know that’s a nonsense argument. I kind of wonder what the outcome would’ve been had Iran and Hezbollah had stayed out. Assad may have fallen and probably replaced by a horrible regime, but would the Syrians have wanted to live in a fundamentalist state like Saudi Arabia? Highly unlikely. They would’ve probably revolted and this may have led to the same bloodshed we’re seeing now, but it wouldn’t be blood shed in my name. It’s difficult to not feel complicit in the atrocities being committed. However, I now know how it is possible for many Jews to be afraid to speak up against Zionism and to feel the need to defend it, I have become very unpopular for not fully throwing my weight around Iran in this war. I’m always told I desire to see Shiite genocide. Isn’t that what anti-Zionist Jews are often told when they don’t blindly defend Israel?

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