Syria: Diplomacy versus international criminal law?

A fragile ceasefire took hold yesterday in Syria. It is the result of Kofi Annan’s plan, backed by the UN Security Council about a month ago. The plan, it’s important to note, doesn’t demand a regime change in Syria, but only a commitment to an “inclusive Syria-led political process to address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people”. Russia and China were not willing to go any further.

In the beginning, Europeans’ attitude was rather energetic demanding Assad to step down. However, Europe is softening its line now. After the Libyan experience, and certainly more focused on domestic economy-related affairs, the EU seems frightened of the regional instability that would derive from a prolonged war in Syria. The Union has been struggling to play a meaningful role in the country, and it now openly backs Annan’s diplomatic approach and proposes a political path forward not preconditioned on Assad’s resignation.

The political solution seems now the only option on the table. Barnes-Dacey proposes a political strategy that gives Moscow the lead role. A policy brief of the International Crisis Group made a similar bid last month. The editorial of The Guardian today assures that “it would be a fatal mistake to dismiss the Annan plan prematurely and argue for Nato intervention”.

That said, it is unavoidable to compare the international responses vis-à-vis Libya and Syria (see previous posts here and here). Certain political realities explain the UN-endorsed, Nato-led and Arab League-agreed upon operation in Libya (see Hugh Roberts’ great analysis in London Review of Books). These political realities are not present in Syria at the moment.

If the documented crimes against humanity had been reported to the ICC (something Russia and China would have opposed to, but mysteriously let happen in the Libyan case), it wouldn’t have been possible for the UN-envoy Annan to meet up with President Assad and discuss his six-point plan. Yet, since the involvement of the ICC is out of question, the international community must secure an alternative way to secure real accountability for the crimes committed in the last months, perhaps through universal jurisdiction or via a regional criminal tribunal (as suggested by Sonia Cardenas in the blog Erga Omnes).

We now face a dual critical question: If the diplomatic solution fails, who (and how) will make sure Assad doesn’t repress even more brutally the population from now on? And if the diplomatic solution finally succeeds, i.e., repression doesn’t take place (assuming that’s possible), how will it affect the role of the International Criminal Court and international criminal law on the whole? Time will tell if the Security Council hasn’t merely given Assad more time to keep repressing the Syrian people.

Koldo Casla



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