Important New Bipartisan Bill To Advance Accountability for International Crimes in Syria

Publication Type: 
Other Writing
Publication Date: 
April 10, 2017

Following on the heels of last week’s chemical weapon attack in Syria, Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Bob Corker (R-TN), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and Todd Young (R-IN) have introduced the Syria War Crimes Accountability Act of 2017, which authorizes the United States to provide technical and other forms of assistance to investigations and other credible transitional justice efforts, including a potential hybrid tribunal.  (C-Span video is here). In his press release, Sen. Rubio—chair of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on human rights said:

We must bring to justice those responsible for the Syrian regime’s barbaric attacks and repeated use of chemical weapons.

Senator Cardin, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, stated:

The United States must lead the international community in holding Assad accountable for his war crimes and his brutal victimization of the Syrian people over the last six years.

In drafting this proposed legislation, lawmakers interfaced with a range of organizations engaged in documentation and litigation, including the Commission for International Justice & Accountability (CIJA), which is devoted to documenting crimes in Syria & Iraq, and the Center for Justice & Accountability (CJA) in San Francisco, a human rights law firm.

The full text of the bill is available here.  Some key elements:

  1. The proposed legislation recites—and condemns—the range of international law breaches committed in Syria, including Secretary Kerry’s 2016 determination that genocide is being committed (see my coverage here and here).
  2. The legislation’s findings make reference to the range of individual cases proceeding in domestic courts involving international crimes committed in Syria, which include the U.S. suit under the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act (FSIA) about which I have written here and other domestic proceedings, covered here and here (foreign fighters).
  3. The findings also note that the United States has already provided almost $6 billion in humanitarian aid, making it the world’s largest single donor.
  4. The bill catalogs existing efforts to lay the groundwork for accountability, including the U.N. Commission of Inquiry (COI) established by the Human Rights Council in 2011 and the new International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Those Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic (IIIM). (Alex Whiting’s coverage is here and here (Russia’s objections); mine is here).

Read the full post at Just Security