Pursuing Accountability in Syria

Large-scale violations of International Criminal and Humanitarian Law have taken place over the course of the Syrian conflict. In the absence of a referral of the situation to the International Criminal Court or the creation of a specialized tribunal, a number of states supported an innovative effort by the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA) to gather evidence and build prosecution case files for future adjudication. The CIJA recently completed the first three case files addressing individual criminal responsibility at the highest levels for crimes committed in Syrian regime-controlled detention facilities. The Commission is currently working on additional investigations in Syria, maintaining its commitment to meeting international standards for evidence in criminal trials.

Without a doubt, a new model for addressing the complementarity gap in the fight against impunity for grave crimes under international law is emerging. Two questions, however, remain: What efforts are needed to establish jurisdiction of a properly constituted court or tribunal at the domestic or international level over crimes in Syria? Can the CIJA’s model be used to bridge the accountability gap in other conflict situations where lack of political will prevents official judicial institutions, whether international or domestic, from being engaged?

Dr. William Wiley, the CIJA’s founder and director, along with Stephen Rapp, former US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues, and James A. Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, examined the legal ramifications of non-governmental organizations conducting high-level atrocity crimes investigations in ongoing conflicts; how the results of such investigations may or should inform policy regarding the conflict in Syria; and whether the CIJA methodology can be applied in other sustained conflicts. This high-level discussion was moderated by the Norwegian Ambassador to the Netherlands H.E. Anniken Krutnes.  

Dr. Abi Williams, President of The Hague Institute, provided the welcome remarks.

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