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Syrian War Crimes and International Criminal Court Essay

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Updated: Jun 25th, 2020


International cooperation is a relationship that exists between different countries. It is largely influenced by politics, diverse human personalities, culture, science, technology, and/or economic aspects. These factors facilitate the exchange of resources internationally. Various interests and objectives of individual countries usually govern the exchange of resources. Many nations have benefitted from the associations in ways that focus on establishment of peace across transnational boundaries. This situation has led to rapid increment of air, water, and land transportation, communication technology, and international economy. Availability of peace amongst various countries has resulted in the formation of trade treaties.

International cooperation has also heightened the immigration of people internationally as they seek job opportunities, education, and settlement among others in different countries. International cooperation also promotes culture. Sharing and exchange of values amongst global societies results in appreciation of diverse social practices. Syria is one of the countries that have been involved in civil war. The Syrian war began as a tussle between the government of President Bashar al-Assad and rebels who were opposed to the state rules that prevailed at the onset of 2011. This essay provides an exploration of war crimes, the International Criminal Court (ICC), and Syria.

Why the commission of War Crimes, including torture, is universally condemned

According to Snow, war crimes refer to grave violations against international humanitarian laws (46). Usually, such unconventionalities result in criminal acts, mass killings, and other inhuman transactions. Various activities that characterize war crimes include murder, mutilation, torture, abduction, and performing intentional attacks against civilians in areas such as religious buildings, educational centers, charitable properties, and hospitals among others. Brutal actions such as pillaging, rape, sexual slavery and violence, and recruitment of underage children to serve in the armed forces among other forms of hostilities are also evident in war crimes (Snow 47).

Evolution of War Crimes concepts

In the ancient times, war crimes were considered to be normal and were accepted part of human nature until recently when it was realized that war crimes are devastating. Many centuries ago, brutality against opponents or soldiers was only punished depending on who won the battle. Commanders and politicians who lose wars in many occasions can run in to hiding or face cruel punishment like execution or imprisonment. No procedures had been stipulated in place to deal with cases of war crimes and nobody for instance politicians and military officials can take responsibilities for their actions and those of their troops.

During the World War II, many murders were committed where millions of people were killed especially in Germany where the Nazi under the leadership of Hitler killed Jews. Other cases involving mistreatment of prisoners and civilians by soldiers in Japan had been noted thus change of belief towards war crimes was realized. Several powers categorically noted that killings and other inhumane behavior were unfair and thus perpetrators were to face punishment and bear individual responsibility on crimes committed can be done in courts. An example was the prosecution of Japan leaders and soldiers who mistreated prisoners and other civilians. Although the first trials had minimal effect on taming crimes of war, they act as the springboard of the tribunal hearings in the modern-day International Criminal Court (ICC).

Various Categories of War Crimes

War crimes are specified as genocides, crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanities. The acts of crimes against peace include a plan, preparation, and start of wars of aggression and violation of international agreements. It entails participation in plans and conspiracy with an aim to accomplish vicious actions. The act of war crimes includes violations of the laws of war that result in atrocities, murder, mistreatment, and destructions of properties among others. For instance, the atomic bomb of Hiroshima and Nagasaki among other cases that happened in Japan led to mass killings of people during the two incidences. The crimes against humanity were the atrocities and activities that were inhumane towards civilians before, during, and after wars that resulted in include murder, extermination, deportation, and rape among other offences. Lastly, genocides is the most severe crime against humanity since it is an intentional act of destroying a race, religion, ethnic, or national groups of a particular region or country.

Examples alleged war crimes include the Armenian genocide of 1915 to1923 in which Ottoman killed about 1.5 million Turks. In Europe, the Nazis killed Jews, gypsies and other people between 1930s and 1940s. Rwanda’s 1994 war crime left about 800,000 Tutsis dead. Some Hutus were also killed while others fled to seek asylum in other African countries. Between 1992 and1995 several people were killed in Bosnia in a war crime that was characterized by genocide. The trial is still going at the ICC.

Relevance of United States Participation in Permanent War Crimes Tribunal

The influence of the United States in permanent war crimes tribunal is limited due to the natures and origins of cases that are handled the international level. According to Welsh, international cooperation is of utmost importance in formulation of solutions to problems that pertain to the environment, pandemics, warfare, and terrorism (293).

How Internal Wars in the Developing World affect the Value of having a Permanent Tribunals

Internal conflicts that are primarily fueled by political interests and ethnic differences have significantly affected the value of forming permanent tribunals. For instance, the Syrian conflict that began at the onset of 2011 within the context of Arab remonstrations led to a nationwide demonstration against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and his government. Instead of considering alternative mechanisms to solve the problem, the president forcefully used the military, police, and retributive laws to punish those civilians who sided with the rebels. As a result, the military and other government forces responded to the president’s orders using violence to crackdown the initiators of the uprising. According to Snow, the Syrian civil conflict began due to a mere protest. However, in only one and half years, the Red Cross declared it a civil war. The Syrian government’s ill response compelled the rebels to form their own military in 2011.

Syria attained independence in 1946. However, the democratic system of governance that was established ended because of a coup that was conducted in March 1949. Several other upheavals that happened thereafter against the military rule resulted in the transfer of power to civilians in 1954. A union that was formed between Syria and Egypt led to the replacement of the parliamentary structure with a powerful presidential system. Several coups that took place afterwards led to the establishment of the Ba’ath Syrian regional branch government in 1963. However, some years later, a power resolution that enabled General Hafez al-Assad to become the Prime Minister was reached. Interestingly, he declared himself the president of Syria in 1971. He led the country until his death in 2000. Syria has remained a single party state due to the dominance of the secular Syrian Regional Branch. There was no possibility of implementing a multiparty regime amidst such state of supremacy. As a result, enactment of a dictatorial system of governance became the immediate alternative.

Failed hopes of democratization by President Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma al-Assad led to intense political atmosphere where elites such as Riad Seif and Jamal al-Atassi held various forums to debate about dogmatic solutions to the problems facing Syrians. The reforms and promises that were not implementable by the various presidents led to the dissatisfaction of Syrians. According to Schmid and Crelinsten, this situation resulted in demonstrations that later turned into war crimes and atrocities (45).

Effectiveness of the International Criminal Court (ICC)

The International Criminal Court is an independent and unremitting body that tries people who are accused of grave crimes such as genocides, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. According to Snow, the court is based on a treaty and is currently supported by 122 countries worldwide (56). However, the court is always taken as a last resort after complainants feel that the national courts of individual countries are not genuine to pass their tribunals against persons who commit grave crimes. For instance, in cases where a proceeding is meant to cover a perpetrator who should otherwise been held responsible for an alleged criminal activity. Snow reveals that the ICC observes the highest standards of tribunal processes that encompass fair administration of justice (55). This court is governed by the Rome Statute and is based in The Hague, Netherlands. The statute was signed on 17 July 1998 before it started its operations on 1 July 2002. It handles cases of war crimes that are committed in countries that are signatories to the Rome Statute; hence, it does not extend its mandate to inhuman situations that occur in non-member countries.

However, multiparty situations that arise within the court during the administration of justice in various war crime cases limit international cooperation (Snow 54). In the context of this essay, Syria provides a good example of a country that has failed to cooperate with the global criminal court. The ICC can only handle cases of war crimes if the UN Security Council refers the situation to the court (Snow 56). Many countries have issued notifications to the council requesting to present the Syrian war crime cases in the ICC. Various reports have been prepared. At the outset, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has written a report pertaining to violation of human rights by the government and rebels.

Secondly, the UN Secretary General’s special adviser has reported various cases of genocide. Over 55 countries that were led by Switzerland have also expressed their concerns about the war crimes and atrocities in Syria. Finally yet importantly, NGOs such as the Amnesty International, FIDH, and the Human Rights Watch have expressed their concerns about the inhumane experiences that have been encountered by Syrian citizens because of war crimes. However, presentation of these cases before the ICC has been difficult due to interferences by countries of veto powers such as Russia and China. These countries have opted to support the Syrian government by vetoing the ‘Western-drafted’ UN Security Council resolutions of 2011 and 2012 that were meant to effect sanctions on the Syrian government.

Snow reveals that the proposal of the Syrian war crime included commitment to a follow-up that was efficient and effective (61). The proposal also clarified the guidelines that were provided by the UN Secretary General on avoidance of non-essential contacts with individuals who were supposed to be arrested. The proposals also required the Syrian government to support and implement the terms of agreements on privileges and immunities that were guaranteed by the ICC. This proposal required Syria not to hinder the ICC staff from performing their duties in the country. Furthermore, the proposal stated that the government should not detain the staff as practiced in other countries during similar wars.

According to Schmid and Crelinsten, many victims and opponents claim that prosecution procedures are merely politically initiated (56). The Rome Statute has curbed such incidences, especially those concerning political motivations. A current incidence is the presence of numerous complaints that are registered concerning the appointment of the prosecutor that allege that the process was politically driven. Another issue that has emerged recently is the confusion of soldiers due to laws of war, problems that concern peace, and reconciliation. As a result, it is also claimed that the ICC is purporting to perform jurisdictions over countries that are nonpartisans to the Rome Statute. Other issues include costs, time wastages, and unfair judgment especially to African countries (Schmid and Crelinsten 63).

How the accusations of war crimes against the government of Syria illustrate the points of contention over war crimes

War crimes that have been occurring in Syria have had tremendous effects on the lives of people. Death cases have risen above 190,000. Alleged combats that occur between the government supporters and rebels have caused these fatalities. This situation has resulted in violation of human rights through numerous massacres that have been fueled by the civil war. The government has also caused various civilian casualties through bombing. In addition, various arrests and torture of protesters and activists have been reported. War crimes have also led to displacement of foreigners and local citizens. More than 6.5 million citizens have been displaced from their homes while more than 3 million others have ran from the country to neighbor states such as Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, and Iraq to seek asylum. According to Snow, the living conditions of Syrians have been deteriorating due to worsening war crimes that have resulted in shortage of food and social amenities (62).

In addition, atrocities that have been committed in various localities in the Arabian republic have led to immense suffering of civilians. Battlefields that are staged by the rival parties have always enhanced violence. This situation has significantly destroyed international peace and socio-economic stability. The risk of spreading the ferocity is also predictable due to influx of foreign soldiers in the republic. Recent reports indicate that women and children are the most affected by the war crimes due to increased costs and scarcity of social amenities. The ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) rebel group has reportedly been harassing many women due to their failure to abide by the dressing code that they have set. The rebels have increasingly recruited and trained young children (even as young as 10 years old) on combat tactics at ISIS camps. Furthermore, the ISIS groups also carry out displacement of people, especially the Kurdish communities, from northern Syria. Executions are carried out every Friday and civilians, including children, are forced to watch. These bodies are displayed in public places to haunt local populations.

On the other hand, the government of Syria is also responsible for committing crimes against humanity. It has indiscriminately killed people using missiles and bombs in densely populated civilian residential (Snow 63). Various reports indicate that the Syrian government uses its aides to commit unrelenting massacres against rebellious citizens. Government soldiers who are stationed at various entry points and borders also block injured civilians from accessing hospitals. To a further extend, they also prevent humanitarian aid agencies from reaching health facilities within the republic. Furthermore, the government soldiers torture prisoners through sexual assaults and making the conditions in these areas worse for them. This situation has caused many deaths. The government has also used chemicals such as chlorine in several incidences, especially in Western Syria, to kill civilians.

The Dilemma of War Crimes

War crimes are extreme inhumane activities that have significantly affected worldwide modern societies. These vicious occurrences have deteriorated economic developments in various nations (Welsh 291). Besides, they have resulted in unfathomable deaths and displacements of innocent civilians among other impacts. However, the introduction of tribunals to handle such cases has reduced the effects of wars and crimes on citizens as political leaders fear instigating feuds in their countries. Despite its criticism, the ICC has handled a number of cases against various vicious crimes. The court is still at its tender age. Therefore, a probability that it will handle more cases of crimes in the future is high. There is a need to offer the ICC judges more chances to serve longer terms. Besides, cooperation of regional and national courts is paramount to the strength of the international court.


In the context of the Syrian war crime, the political sides should not be considered in formulation of an amicable resolution. However, a common ground should be established to seek ways out. Both regional and super power nations have been biased due to various interests in the destabilized republic. For instance, Russia sells weapons to the Syrian government for economic gains. On another dimension, the Syrian government should also allow for democracy and provide freedom of expression and speech to its citizens whilst abolishing authoritarianism.

The relationship between the UN Security Council and the countries that are not signatories to the Rome Statute has posed problems to the implementation of the ICC mandates to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of war crimes. Nonetheless, challenges that have been faced in the Syrian case have led to creation of means and development ideas to solve such problems. Many neighboring countries are initiating domestic developments as solutions to the impacts of Syrian war crimes. For instance, in June 2012, the Geneva Communiqué proposed an idea of commitment by both the government and rebels to reconcile and accept accountability for the crimes that they had committed by offering transitional justice and reparations to the affected persons. However, such actions are still at a slower pace due to continued conflict in the country.

Works Cited

Schmid, Alex and Ronald Crelinsten. The Politics of Pain: Tortures and Their Masters. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1994. Print.

Snow, Donald. Cases in International Relations. Boston, MA: Longman Press, 2014. Print.

Welsh, Jennifer. “The Responsibility to Protect: Dilemmas of a New Norm.” Current History 111.198(2012): 291-8. Print.

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