WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives Monday overwhelmingly approved two resolutions for the Syrian government and the Islamic State to be tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity and are expected to be passed by the Senate.
“The atrocities committed against the Syrian population demand accountability and demand justice,” said Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who sponsored one of the bills. “An investigation… will send a clear message that such barbaric behavior has dire personal consequences.”
Tuesday is the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the Syrian civil war, which has reduced many of the country’s ancient cities to rubble and claimed the lives of over 11 percent of the population.
With peace talks underway in Switzerland and an end to the bloodshed in sight, the international community must now come to terms with the atrocities committed during the brutal conflict.
The two bills cited many counts on which the authors found the groups in direct violation of international law.
The House voted 392-3 In favor of Smith’s bill condemning the Syrian government for the methods by which they waged war, including rape and torture, the use chemical weapons, the massacre of civilians and the use of starvation as a weapon of war.
The resolution also credited the government’s targeting of critical infrastructure – schools, water treatment and medical facilities – for running up the civilian death toll, and condemned Russia and Iran for their support of the Bashar al-Assad regime. The bill urges President Barack Obama to send an ambassador to the U.N. to begin establishing an international tribunal to try both parties for their atrocities.
The other measure would label the Islamic State’s subjugation, sexual enslavement and massacre of religious minorities – Christians, Kurds and Yazidis – as genocide, putting the terror organization in direct violation of the Genocide Convention of 1948.
“Not only is there a grave injustice happening in the Middle East, but this is a threat against civilization itself,” said Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., who was the lead sponsor of the bill against ISIS. He said that passing the legislation would raise the international consciousness and incite the responsible communities of the world to hold ISIS accountable.
The House also gave that measure unanimous bipartisan support, 393-0.
Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., called for a more aggressive U.S. airstrike campaign against ISIS, even if some noncombatants get killed.
“If we’re going to get serious against ISIS, we have to be willing not to target civilians,” he said, “but we have to be willing to hit strategic targets even if we are not 100 percent sure that all civilian casualties will be avoided.
Past international tribunals against warlords or political leaders in Rwanda, Yugoslavia and Sierra Leone successfully prosecuted offenders for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
“The bureaucracy of establishing the court, being able to start deciding what cases you’re going to take on… there’s a lot of legwork you have to do, and that’s going to add to the time,” said Eric Stover, the director of the Human Rights Center at UC-Berkeley.