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Syrian War Crimes Tribunal Bill Taken Up by Key Committee

Contact: Jeff Sagnip, 202-225-3765; 

WASHINGTON, March 3, 2016 /Standard Newswire/ -- Legislation designed to establish a Syrian War Crimes Tribunal and hold accountable anyone involved in genocide and crimes against humanity in Syria was adopted yesterday by the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

"The world has been shocked by gross human rights violations, including summary executions, torture, and rape reported in the news," said Rep. Chris Smith, author of the legislation, H. Con. Res 121. He cited estimates that that put the death toll as high as 470,000 people. 

A senior member of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House and the chairman of the subcommittee that oversees global human rights, Smith also serves as Congressional Representative to the U.N.

"The U.N. Security Council should move immediately to establish a Syrian war crimes tribunal and my resolution calls upon the Administration to pursue this policy goal including using our voice and vote at the U.N.," he said.  Click here to read Rep. Smith's opening statement.

Smith's resolution envisions a court based on previous effective tribunals held after atrocities in Rwanda, Sierra Leone and the former Yugoslavia. Those courts prosecuted parties from all sides of the war—leaders as well as combatants and soldiers. Smith noted that the Yugoslavian court made Slobodan Milošević the first sitting head of state to be indicted for war crimes. The Sierra Leone court prosecuted former Liberian President Charles Taylor, who eventually was convicted and received a sentence of 50 years in prison. and a senior member of the Foreign Affairs committee and chairman of the subcommittee that oversees global human rights.

"Past ad hoc/regional war crimes tribunals—including courts for Sierra Leone, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia—have made a significant difference, holding some of the worst mass murders to account with successful prosecutions followed by long jail sentences," Smith said.

"Can a U.N. Security Council resolution establishing a Syrian tribunal prevail?" Smith asked, preempting those who might doubt the success of ad hoc/regional courts. "Yes. With a herculean diplomatic push by the United States and other interested nations, past success in creating war crimes tribunals can indeed be prologue. Notwithstanding Russia's solidarity with Serbia during the Balkan war, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was unanimously approved. Ditto for the special court in Sierra Leone in 2002. The Rwanda tribunal was created in 1994, with China choosing to abstain rather than veto."

Smith also highlighted advantages a special ad hoc/regional court would have over the International Criminal Court (ICC).

"An ad hoc or regional court has significant advantages over the International Criminal Court (ICC) as a venue for justice," Smith said. "For starters, neither Syria nor the United States is a member of the ICC, although mechanisms exist to push prosecutions there. The ICC has operated since 2002 but boasts only two convictions. By way of contrast, the Yugoslavia court convicted 80 people; Rwanda, 61; and Sierra Leone, 9.  Moreover, a singularly focused Syrian tribunal that provides Syrians with a degree of ownership could enhance its effectiveness.

"At the Syrian court, no one on either side who commits war crimes, genocide or crimes against humanity would be precluded from prosecution.  Justice would be served," Smith said.

The Syria resolution has broad bi-partisan support, and received input from the State Department as well as a panel of experts at a 2013 hearing convened by Chairman Smith and entitled "Establishing a Syrian War Crimes Tribunal." Click here to view a transcript of the hearing, or click here…

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