With Syria cooperating with UN inspectors to rid nuclear weapons, it was able to eliminate the threat of a possible US intervention and draw the spotlight away from the violence while UN inspectors carried out their tasks. However, a UN inquiry has produced massive evidence of war crimes against humanity, and the trail leads to the head of state Bashar Al-Assad. While it was generally known Assad was calling the shots, this is the first time the UN has accused Assad directly.
With the UN coming directly out and accusing Assad, many wonder if it will affect January’s Geneva 2 peace conference to end the violence once and for all in Syria. Navi Pillay, the UN’s human rights chief herself had said the Syrian conflict had “become an intolerable affront to the human conscience” (Guardian). Faisal Miqdad, the deputy foreign minister, responded by stating, “She has been talking nonsense for a long time and we don’t listen to her” (Guardian). This just goes to show how little Bashar Assad is worried of being charged with war crimes, in a conflict that has already claimed 125,835 lives.
While accusing Bashar Assad of war crimes is something i strongly believe in, it is not very likely that Assad will be brought to trial. The UN commission however not only accused the Syrian government of committing war crimes, but they also said rebels backed by western and Arab countries were guilty as well. In a country where both sides are fighting for control of the country, I don’t feel it makes sense for the UN to accuse both sides of war crimes shifting the blame from Bashar Al-Assad to both sides. While Assad most definitely had his hands in starting the conflict, it is undeniable as Syria’s head of state, and commander-in-chief of the armed forces he had full control of what was happening.
While Pillay has repeatedly asked for the case to be handed to the ICC in The Hague, an ICC referral requires the backing of the five permanent members; US, UK, France, Russia and China. Two of the members Russia and China have blocked any action against the Syrian government, and are not likely to change their ground. With Russia and China out, the US, UK, and France have instead focused on securing the disarmament of Syria’s chemical weapons. With the Geneva 2 peace conference to take place on January 22, it is unlikely that Assad will co-operate if he is facing war crimes charges (Guardian).
A strong point PIllay brings up is that the ongoing efforts to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons shouldn’t distract from the killings of thousands with other weapons. While chemical weapons caused the largest number of deaths in the war in a single day, conventional weapons accounted for majority of the deaths in the Syrian war. While it is unlikely that Assad will be brought to justice anytime soon, there will be a day where he has to face the crimes he committed against his own citizens. Hopefully that day isn’t too far away…
By: Rohan Kohli