Failure to refer Syria to international court opens door to more atrocities, UN experts warn

The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. Photo: ICC-CPI/Max Koot

30 May 2014 – A group of independent United Nations human rights experts today emphasized that the Security Council’s inability to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) leaves the door wide open for new atrocities in the ongoing conflict.

Despite repeated appeals by senior UN officials for accountability for crimes being committed in Syria, the Council was unable last week to adopt a resolution referring the situation in the war-torn nation to the ICC, due to vetoes by permanent members Russia and China.

The resolution, which was backed by the other 13 members of the Council, would have given the Court the mandate to investigate the horrific crimes committed during the course of the conflict in Syria, which since March 2011 has witnessed the deaths of over 150,000 civilians, the displacement of millions and widespread violations of human rights.

“The double veto last week to a resolution referring the situation in Syria to the ICC is likely to expose the Syrian population to further gross human rights and humanitarian law violations,” the experts stated in a news release.

“The failure to hold those responsible for the violations to account may fuel further atrocities.”

The experts noted that given the absence of prosecution at the domestic level, it was the Security Council’s responsibility to refer the situation to the ICC.

“Referring the situation in Syria to the ICC would have been an important and most necessary step both to protect civilians against continued and future violations by all sides to the conflict, and to curb impunity for the grave violations of human rights and humanitarian law, some amounting to crimes against humanity,” they added.

Independent experts or special rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.

The experts speaking out on Syria today deal with freedom of religion or belief; the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence; torture; extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; arbitrary detention; and enforced or involuntary disappearances.


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