Monday, July 16, 2012

What's wrong with this picture?


The news itself is tragic.
Protracted violence is now so intense in Syria that this weekend a representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross told a Reuters reporter:
"There is a non-international armed conflict in Syria."
That pronouncement goes further than those of the past, in which the ICRC deemed conflict localized rather than nearly countrywide.
But what most caught this reader's eye was the legal implication drawn from that pronouncement.
The article states that a "threshold" has now been crossed, one that now permits "future prosecutions for war crimes." The author links this threshold to the criteria for NIAC -- acronym for "armed conflict not of an international character," to quote Article 3 common to the four 1949 Geneva Conventions on the laws of war.
All this is correct as far as it goes.
But it does not go far enough, and so leaves the risk of inaccurate inference.
What's missing from this account is the fact that international prosecutions do not depend on Geneva rules alone. The early requirement of a "war nexus" was broken long ago, at Beth Van Schaack explained in this article.  Crimes against humanity thus may occur -- may be, and are, prosecuted internationally -- even absent armed conflict. Crimes against humanity are certain acts "committed," to quote Article 7 of the Statute of the International Criminal Court,
'as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population'.
There's evidence that such attacks have taken place in Syria throughout the last year and a half. That means the "threshold" for international investigation and prosecution was crossed a long time ago.
What hinders peace and accountability in Syria is not the presence of some legal barrier. As we've posted in the past, what hinders peace in Syria is the absence of geopolitical will.

1 comment:

Ian said...

If the conflict is now a NIAC, doesn't that also mean that some attacks by government forces may no longer be crimes? For instance, attacks against opposition forces who are part of an organised armed group.