January 13, 2013

H.E. Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohamed Kamel Amr

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Cornish El-Nil

Cairo, Egypt

 

Dear Foreign Minister:

We write to request that your government support an initiative led by Switzerland calling on the United Nations (UN) Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The letter, set to be delivered by Switzerland on January 14, 2013, points to a record of severe human rights violations in Syria with no prospect of justice at the local level, and appeals to the Security Council to therefore take up the issue of accountability. It is time Egypt join the over 50 nations, including Tunisia and Libya, that have supported this call and signal to all sides in Syria that the days of absolute impunity for these severe human rights violations are at an end.

As you know, serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law have been committed in Syria. The Syrian government continues to conduct indiscriminate air and artillery strikes on residential areas, and to arbitrarily detain, torture, and execute civilians. In August 2012, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria issued its third report in which it found reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity and war crimes had been committed in Syria. Human Rights Watch has likewise documented and condemned serious violations including kidnapping, torture, and extrajudicial executions by opposition forces.

The humanitarian situation in Syria is dire. A preliminary analysis carried out by data specialists on behalf of the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights suggests that over 60,000 persons have been killed in Syria to date. Approximately two million people are internally displaced and over 600,000 are seeking refuge in camps and other arrangements in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Egypt.

Egypt has been one of the strongest proponents of ending atrocities committed in Syria. Egyptian efforts to secure strong resolutions on Syria at the League of Arab States and at the UN General Assembly have helped to galvanize attention and action to stop violence against civilians. Most recently, we understand that Egypt worked to secure an August 2012 General Assembly resolution, supported by 133 states, which stressed the importance of holding those responsible for human rights violations in Syria to account, and encouraged the Security Council to consider appropriate measures in this regard. In an interview with CNN on January 6, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy also supported calls by Syrians for international justice. Egyptian support for this global appeal would be in step with its advocacy on Syria and advance these efforts. 

However, we understand that Egypt has yet to sign the letter spearheaded by Switzerland calling on the Security Council to act concretely and refer Syria to the ICC.

Egypt's support of this initiative would send an important message on how the Council should be reacting to the deteriorating situation in Syria. We believe that broad support including from states in the region could contribute to generating greater pressure on those in positions of authority in Syria to halt the violence. Indeed, the threat of serious criminal prosecution would send a powerful message to those most responsible for the atrocities there.

The call for justice through the ICC has been echoed by other parts of the international community. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has, on multiple occasions, recommended that the Council refer the situation to the court. In conclusions adopted in December 2012, the European Union Foreign Affairs Council called on the Security Council to urgently address the situation in Syria, including the issue of an ICC referral.

We understand that there may be questions about how justice could affect prospects for a peace settlement in Syria. However, the record from other conflicts such as those in the Balkans confirms that criminal indictments of senior political, military, and rebel leaders can actually strengthen peace efforts by delegitimizing and marginalizing those who stand in the way of the conflict’s resolution. Further, the failure to hold perpetrators of the most serious international crimes to account can fuel future abuses.

Human Rights Watch believes that strong Security Council action is overdue, including the referral of Syria to the ICC. We urge your government to urgently associate itself with Switzerland's initiative. While the international community has underlined the need for accountability, there has been no action to make this a reality. Ongoing delay of any concrete action has devastating consequences for the Syrian people where human rights abuses continue to be committed on a daily basis.The stakes are extremely high for the victims of atrocities there and for global efforts to curtail impunity for the most serious crimes.

 

Sincerely,

 

Richard Dicker

Director, International Justice Program

 

Sarah Leah Whitson

Executive Director, Middle East and North Africa Division

 

Cc:  Ambassador Mootaz Ahmadein Khalil, Permanent Representative of Egypt to the United Nations