Syria: ten years on, impunity for atrocities continues

As Syria marks 10 years of a devastating armed conflict, the UN Security Council continues to abdicate its responsibility to address the gross human rights abuses committed by the Syrian government and various other actors in the country, including the use of chemical weapons and the perpetration of other crimes against humanity, likely genocide and war crimes, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said today.

Since a popular uprising began in March 2011, the regime’s unabated repression has driven Syria into a full-scale civil war. Hundreds of thousands have been killed; tens of thousands have been tortured and forcibly disappeared; over 11 million have been forcibly displaced, either internally or to host countries; and tens of thousands continue to to be arbitrarily detained.

Notwithstanding this, Russia and China have vetoed at least 15 Security Council resolutions seeking to address and deter the perpetration of crimes under international law in Syria, including through the establishment of investigations into the use chemical and other weapons, by imposing sanctions over such use, and by referring the Syria situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“The SC’s failure to address the Syrian conflict has been chronic and structural, and so wrong about so much and at the expense of so many”, said Said Benarbia, MENA Programme Director at the ICJ. “The SC’s failure calls into question its very role as a guarantor of peace and security and its relevance in upholding a rule-based order.”

To end impunity and ensure victims’ right to justice and effective remedies, the SC must reform its accountability practices, including by ensuring that decisions on the investigation of crimes under international law, the referral of these crimes to the ICC, and the establishment and operationalization of other forms of accountability be based on the existence of overwhelming evidence of such crimes, rather than political expediency.

In the meantime, individual UN Member States must act to begin filling the accountability gap in Syria, including by supporting United Nations accountability mechanisms, such as the the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism, and by seeking out, prosecuting and punishing those responsible for the atrocities committed in the country pursuant to the principle of universal jurisdiction, as the recent, first-ever guilty verdict against a former official of the Syrian regime delivered by the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany, shows.


Asser Khattab, Research and Communications Officer, ICJ Middle East and North Africa Programme,

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