International Criminal Court gets Syrian war crimes details

Alleged crimes a 50-50 breakdown between Assad regime and rebel groups

A civil defence member tries to put out a fire at a site hit by what activists said was a barrel bomb dropped by forces loyal to Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad in the al-Maadi neighbourhood of Aleppo yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Hosam Katan

A civil defence member tries to put out a fire at a site hit by what activists said was a barrel bomb dropped by forces loyal to Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad in the al-Maadi neighbourhood of Aleppo yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Hosam Katan

Sat, Jun 21, 2014, 01:00

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has been handed a 1,400-page document that details 20 sample war crimes indictments against combatants on both sides of the Syrian conflict – including President Bashar al-Assad and jihadist insurgents Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, (Isis).

It’s understood the document, which has been delivered to chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, specifies the locations, dates and units or individuals alleged to have been guilty of the crimes, citing the exact violation of the Rome statute with which it recommends they should be charged.

What makes these “credible allegations” timely, according to Prof David Crane of the Syria Accountability Project, which collated the evidence, is that they reflect the growing strength on the ground of extreme Islamic groups such as Isis and the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front. “At the beginning, around 90 per cent of the alleged violations were by Assad and his forces,” said Crane, a former chief prosecutor at the Special Court for Sierra Leone. “That’s now changed: it’s roughly 50-50 in terms of Assad and those various so-called rebel groups fighting to topple him.

“We have some 20 sample indictments of those who bear the gravest responsibility, and one of the most important things about this very detailed and disturbing document is that this is entirely a neutral analysis by independent experts.

“We are not just going after Assad and his henchmen. We have documented all the incidents that have taken place, on both sides. That is essential for even-handed justice – which may eventually come, some day.”

The document is also significant because it joins a growing body of graphic evidence emerging from Syria that cannot be acted upon by the ICC because Russia and China continue to use their veto at the UN Security Council to block a referral to the court – leaving international justice powerless.

Among that evidence is the so-called “Caesar report” – co-authored by Crane and another former Sierra Leone prosecutor, Desmond da Silva, and funded by Qatar – which caused an outcry when it revealed some 55,000 photographs taken by a Syrian military police photographer, codenamed “Caesar”, showing the systematic torture and killing of about 11,000 civilians by government forces.

With such evidence mounting, the continuing deadlock at the Security Council has prompted the US to begin informally investigating the possibility of setting up a special tribunal in a neighbouring country such as Jordan or Turkey, to try crimes committed in Syria.

This might be done at the invitation of the UN General Assembly – bypassing the Security Council. “That may in fact be the only realistic course that can now be taken,” said Da Silva. “What we cannot continue to have is international justice stalled in its tracks.”