There’s now a slight chance that the United Nations Security Council will respond to the slaughter in Syria by imposing international monitoring of Syria’s chemical weapons, as suggested by Russia. This step ought to prevent future use of such heinous weapons, but what it won’t do is bring justice to the war’s many victims (including the hundreds of civilians killed on August 21, likely by government forces using Sarin). Nor will it deter the deliberate or indiscriminate killing of civilians with conventional weapons, which accounts for the overwhelming majority of the death toll so far.
But council members could help provide justice to civilians on all sides by insisting on an immediate referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which would investigate war crimes and other atrocities committed by both government and rebel forces. Nobody claims that the court can stop the killing overnight, but giving the ICC a mandate to investigate serious crimes in Syria should focus the minds of commanders and others who might someday find themselves in the dock.
Russia (abetted by China) complains of rebel abuses but has so far blocked any action at the Security Council to provide accountability. And while US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry talk about “accountability,” “impunity,” and “punishment” – the US has not yet been willing to support referral of the Syria situation to the ICC. Some 64 countries, including six current Security Council members – France, the United Kingdom, Luxembourg, Argentina, Australia, and South Korea – have publicly supported the court’s involvement. It’s high time that China, Russia and the US follow their lead.