Tuesday

17th Sep 2019

Opinion

Living up to the Nobel: EU must act on Syria

  • Civilian bodies - the Syrian conflict has been marked by one massacre after another (Photo: FreedomHouse2)

Catherine Ashton's mandate is to provide leadership on foreign policy and human rights. She has failed, however, to ensure a collective EU voice for bringing the crimes in Syria before the International Criminal Court (ICC).

On 10 December, as the EU receives the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, EU foreign ministers meeting back in Brussels should decide to move beyond vague references to “accountability” for crimes in Syria and make clear that they support a UN Security Council (UNSC) referral of the situation to the ICC.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The world has watched as the violence in Syria has dramatically escalated. Tens of thousands of people have died; children have been slaughtered; over a million people have been internally displaced; and, thousands more have sought refuge from the violence in neighboring countries. In response to grave abuses on both sides, the UN high commissioner for human rights has repeatedly called on the UNSC to refer the situation in Syria to the ICC.

The European Parliament has done likewise. On 7 December, a group of cross party MEPs called on Ashton to ensure that the 10 December meeting would conclude that “the EU and all its 27 Member States will join the Swiss-initiated global effort that seeks the referral of the violence in Syria by the UNSC to the ICC.”

MEPs further urged Ashton “to personally engage in building a large and inclusive international coalition to impel all permanent members of the UNSC to support such a referral.”

Twenty-six EU member states have individually indicated their support for a referral of the Syrian situation to the ICC – all but Sweden. Ashton herself has said publicly that the “atrocities cannot go unpunished” and that those responsible for serious crimes in Syria should be held accountable.

Yet she has not pushed EU foreign ministers to reach a common position. Without that, the EU has no authority to rally other states around the world to support an ICC referral. Indeed, a comprehensive and global coalition of states is what is needed to press Russia and other members of the Security Council to act.

An ICC referral will send a strong message to perpetrators on all sides of the Syrian conflict that war crimes and crimes against humanity will not be tolerated and that attempts to stay in power or obtain power by committing war crimes will not be successful.

While an ICC referral is no panacea, the record from other conflicts such as those in the Balkans confirms that indictments of senior political, military and rebel leaders can actually strengthen peace efforts by delegitimising and marginalising those who stand in the way of the conflict's resolution.

Unsealing the arrest warrant for the former Liberian president Charles Taylor at the opening of talks to end the Liberian civil war was ultimately viewed as helpful in moving negotiations forward. By the same token, in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan, the failure to hold those responsible for the most serious crimes to account has fuelled further abuses.

Some contend that a referral to the ICC would prevent President Bashar al-Assad and other senior officials from leaving power, and leaving Syria, for fear of prosecution.

But with or without an ICC referral, they will not have many places to go. Many countries have “universal jurisdiction” laws that could trigger national prosecutions against individuals responsible for serious crimes.

Ashton and the 27 EU foreign ministers should stop talking vaguely about justice for crimes in Syria and articulate an EU common position that clearly and unequivocally calls for an ICC referral.

They should engage the entire EU framework to connect with like-minded countries around the world, including the 121 that have ratified the ICC Statute, to press the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the ICC.

Continued failure to make a case for an EU position is an embarrassment to the EU, to its stated commitment to both the ICC and to justice for serious crimes, and is an inexcusable affront to the victims of the horrendous crimes being committed in Syria.

Lotte Leicht is EU director at Human Rights Watch

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

UN agrees to new Syria plan

The UN, including Russia and China, have called for a transitional government in Syria. Meanwhile, Turkey has sent warplanes to the Syrian border as tensions escalate.

Feature

Back from hell, back from Syria

The West should give the Free Syrian Army food and anti-aircraft defences, one EU parliament official says after visiting the war torn country.

How EU firms and banks help fund Amazon fires

Deutsche Bank, BNP Paribas, Blackrock, and Vanguard collectively own more than $1.1bn in debt in the three largest soy, and the three largest cattle companies, and own $6bn worth of shares in these companies.

News in Brief

  1. German top lawmaker scolds Bettel over Johnson snub
  2. Greens decide on Tuesday on talks on Five Star joining
  3. Belgian mayors give Juncker a tongue-lashing
  4. Von der Leyen defends 'way of life' slogan
  5. Court hears case on UK's pre-Brexit parliament shutdown
  6. Nato rings alarm on Gulf 'escalation'
  7. Luxembourg mockery of British leader sparks 'anger'
  8. Majority of Belgians against excluding Vlaams Belang

Defending the defenders: ombudsmen need support

Ombudsmen are often coming under attack or facing different kinds of challenges. These can include threats, legal action, reprisals, budget cuts or a limitation of their mandate.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  6. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  8. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  9. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  10. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  11. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat

Latest News

  1. Defending the 'European way of life' name splits MEPs
  2. Hungary claims EU 'witch-hunt' over rule of law hearing
  3. Trumpworld In Europe
  4. How EU firms and banks help fund Amazon fires
  5. Amazon fires mean EP must rethink Mercosur trade deal
  6. EU must give full support to Ukraine to dissuade Kremlin
  7. EU divided on how to protect rule of law
  8. Nordic region to become world's most sustainable and integrated

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us