World

58 countries urge UN to refer Syria to ICC

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Nearly 60 countries urged the U.N. Security Council on Monday to refer the war in Syria to the International Criminal Court for investigation of possible crimes against humanity and war crimes.

France, which drafted the resolution, has called for a vote Thursday and Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin has already said Moscow — Syria's closest ally — opposes the measure, which means an almost certain veto. China, which also supports President Bashar Assad's government and has joined Russia in vetoing three previous Syria resolutions, could make it a fourth double veto.

Nevertheless, the 58 countries appealed to all 193 U.N. member states to show their support by co-sponsoring the resolution that would authorize the world's permanent war crimes tribunal to investigate allegations of heinous crimes by the Syrian government, pro-government militias, and armed opposition groups.

The countries said they want as many nations as possible to join in sending "a strong political signal ... that impunity for the most serious crimes under international law is unacceptable." They condemned "the widespread violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed in a pervasive climate of impunity by the Syrian authorities and pro-government militias as well as by non-state armed groups."

Switzerland's U.N. Ambassador Paul Seger, who coordinated the effort, stressed to The Associated Press that the resolution does not target one side. "We believe the least we should be asking for, and the least the victims should be asking for, is justice," Seger said. "That's also the reason, from a moral and legal perspective, this resolution is worth supporting."

Syria is not a state party to the Rome statute that established the International Criminal Court so the only way it can be referred to The Hague, Netherlands-based tribunal is by the Security Council. The council has previously referred conflicts in Darfur and Libya to the ICC.

Richard Dicker, director of international justice at Human Rights Watch, said the mobilization of countries far beyond the 15 Security Council members didn't happen when Darfur and Libya were referred to the court and is a welcome new development.

"This engagement will raise the political price tag for Russia or China should they decide to obstruct justice for Syria through casting a veto," Dicker told AP. "Referral to the ICC is the best means to bring justice to those who have suffered and signal that the space for impunity for those crimes is shrinking," he said.

The draft resolution takes note of reports by an independent commission appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council to investigate rights violations in Syria. In its latest report last September, the commission said at least eight massacres had been perpetrated in Syria by Assad's government and supporters, and one by rebels in the previous year and a half.

A confidential list of suspected criminals is being produced by the commission and kept under lock and key by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay. Switzerland's Seger said: "In situations like Syria, where now we have victims in hundreds of thousands and millions of displaced, if this is not a case for international justice, give me another one."

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