A bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced legislation in the House of Representatives calling for the establishment of a war crimes tribunal to investigate and prosecute “war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, whether committed by officials of the Government of Syria, or members or other groups involved in civil war in Syria.”
“There is a non-lethal way to help ensure that Bashar al-Assad and other perpetrators of atrocities in Syria are held to account—not someday far in the future—but beginning now,” said Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), a senior member of the House of Representatives who authored the resolution. “A Syrian War Crimes Tribunal is an effective alternative to missiles and bombs that carry huge risks of killing or maiming innocent civilians and exacerbating the conflict—all while putting American servicemembers at risk,” he said.
Republicans Randy Weber (TX-14), Tom Marino (PA-10), Frank Wolf (VA-10), Dana Rorahbacher (CA-48), Trent Franks (AZ-08), Jeff Fortenberry (NE-01), John Culberson (TX-07) and Joe Pitts (PA-16) teamed with Democrats Peter DeFazio (OR-04) , Brian Higgins (NY-26 and Jared Huffman (CA-02) as original cosponsors of Smith’s bill. Reps. Scott Rigell (R-VA-02) and Dan Lipinski (D-IL-03) have also signed on as early supporters of the bill.
The resolution, H.Con.Res. 51, urges the President to “use our voice and vote” at the U.N. to create the Syrian War Crimes Tribunal. Smith, who appeared on today’s Washington Journal to discuss his resolution calling to create a War Crimes Tribunal, referenced past ad hoc war crimes tribunals including courts in Yugoslavia, Sierra Leone, and Rwanda that have made a difference. He noted that all three were established after hostilities ended but said waiting would be a mistake.
“A new sense of urgency and commitment requires initiating investigations and prosecutions now in order to send a clear message to genociders—and all those just following orders—that such barbaric behavior has dire personal consequences,” Smith said.
“Each day, the Obama team grows shriller suggesting that not using military force constitutes doing nothing,” Smith said. “It’s a false choice that ignores the fact that wielding powerful weapons against Syria is fraught with potentially disastrous consequences not just inside the war-torn country but throughout the region.
“In the President’s rush to bomb, no one knows for sure whether U.S. strikes will mitigate or exacerbate the violence. And with the rebels’ ranks swelling with Al-Qaeda extremists, does military action by the United States help or hinder any future transition to humane and responsible governance in a free Syria?”
Smith also addressed skeptics who say a Syrian tribunal can’t prevail.
“With a herculean diplomatic push by the United States and other interested nations, past success in creating war crimes courts can indeed be prologue. Notwithstanding Russia’s solidarity with Serbia during the war in the Balkans, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) now in its 20th year, passed unanimously. Ditto for the special court in Sierra Leone in 2002. The Rwanda tribunal was created in 1994 with China choosing to abstain rather than veto,” he said.
Smith said that despite that fact that Secretary of State John Kerry failed to answer questions put to him at a hearing last week seeking clarification of the terms “limited strike” and expected “duration,” the administration push for military strikes intensifies.
“It’s time to switch gears, Mr. President,” Smith said. “Fight to establish the Syria war crimes court and hold both Assad and the rebels who commit egregious crimes to account."
Smith, a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has announced that he will vote against authorizing President Obama’s plans for military strikes in Syria. At a Capitol Hill hearing last week, Smith questioned Secretary of State John Kerry about the Administration’s record on human rights, especially and including in Syria. Smith pointed to a September 3rd New York Times editorial that said it was “alarming” that President Obama did not “long ago put into place, with our allies and partners, a plan for international action.”
In June, Smith chaired a hearing on human rights abuses in Syria entitled “Religious Minorities in Syria: Caught in the Middle.”