I write to urge your government to support the UN General Assembly resolution tabled on Monday, December 19, and currently co-sponsored by 38 states as a first step towards securing justice for victims of serious crimes in Syria. Notwithstanding more than five years of war, the use of chemical weapons, indiscriminate aerial attacks and siege warfare against civilians, the Security Council is paralyzed because of Russia and China’s repeated vetoes on most issues related to Syria, above all accountability and the protection of civilians. While the Security Council resolution mandating monitoring of the evacuation from eastern Aleppo is a positive, if belated, step, it does nothing to address the fundamental problem that has fueled the violations of international humanitarian law in Syria, namely complete impunity.
It is vital that the General Assembly step in and urgently establish an international, impartial and independent mechanism to assist in the investigation and prosecution of serious crimes committed in Syria since 2011 by gathering and preserving potential evidence for use in criminal proceedings in tribunals or courts that may have jurisdiction over these crimes in the future. The creation of such a mechanism such a mechanism could deter those contemplating further atrocities against civilians in Syria. Potential perpetrators need to know that the world is watching and they may one day find themselves behind bars. This is fully within the General Assembly’s authority.
As members of the UN General Assembly continue discussions on convening an Emergency Special Session on Syria, important work is already underway on the question of criminal accountability. Liechtenstein and Qatar have presented a draft resolution that would establish such a mechanism. This effort would be distinct from and complementary to the existing Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria (COI) established by the UN Human Rights Council. While the COI continues its important work documenting abuses across the country and reporting publicly on the situation in Syria, this new mechanism would focus on collecting, consolidating, preserving, and analyzing potential evidence, as well as prepare files in order to facilitate future criminal proceedings.
Some states are already undertaking investigations into serious crimes in Syria under the principle of universal jurisdiction, and others have funded local and international groups’ efforts to document abuses in the country. These initiatives remain important and should continue. An international, impartial, and independent prosecutor-like mechanism mandated by the General Assembly would help further catalyze and coordinate global efforts to secure justice for Syria’s victims in the longer term.
We urge your government to support steps to create this concrete justice mechanism. We all owe this to the civilians of Syria.
Executive Director, Human Rights Watch