Appeal to Obama to Declare Slaughter of Christians, Others as ‘Genocide’ also Passes HouseU.S. House Passes Smith Bill Urging New Syrian War Crimes Tribunal
The House of Representatives voted today urging the U.N. Security Council to immediately establish a Syrian war crimes tribunal.
H Con Res 121—sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04)—calls upon the Administration to pursue this policy goal including using America’s voice and vote at the UN.
During debate in the House Smith said, “Past ad hoc/regional war crimes tribunals—including courts for Sierra Leone, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia—have made a significant difference holding some of the worst mass murderers to account with successful prosecutions followed by long jail sentences."
“An ad hoc or regional court has significant advantages over the International Criminal Court (ICC) as a venue for justice,” Smith said. “The ICC has operated since 2002 but boasts only two convictions. By way of contrast, the Yugoslavia court convicted 80 people; Rwanda, 61; and Sierra Leone, 9. Moreover, a singularly focused Syrian tribunal that provides Syrians with a degree of ownership could significantly enhance its effectiveness."
“I chaired a congressional hearing in 2013 on establishing a Syrian War Crimes tribunal, which included David Crane, the former chief prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone and founder and chairman of the Syria Accountability Project,” Smith said. “As Mr. Crane testified, the Syria Accountability Project has collected data ‘and built a framework by which President Assad and his henchmen along with members of the opposition can be prosecuted openly and fairly.’ He and his team have developed a ‘crime base matrix which catalogs most of the incidents chronologically and highlights the violations of the Rome Statute, the Geneva Conventions as well as domestic Syrian criminal law.’”
Smith said that Crane’s leadership held even heads of state to account.
“Who can forget the picture of the infamous former President of Liberia—Charles Taylor—with his head bowed incredulous that the Special Court for Sierra Leone in 2012 meted out a 50-year jail term for his crimes against humanity and war crimes,” Smith said.
Tomorrow, March 15, marks the fifth anniversary of the Syrian War, which has taken the lives of many innocents.
Smith said, “Rigorous investigations by a new Syria court followed by prosecutions, convictions and serious jail time for perpetrators of crimes on all sides will not only hold those responsible for war crimes accountable, but will send a clear message that such barbaric behavior has dire personal consequences. The victims—and their loved ones—deserve no less.”
“Can a U.N. Security Council resolution establishing a Syrian war crimes tribunal prevail?” Smith asked during the debate, “Yes. With a serious and sustained diplomatic push by the United States and other interested parties, past success in creating war crimes tribunals can indeed be prologue. Notwithstanding Russia's solidarity with Serbia during the Balkan war, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was unanimously approved. 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.”
Smith concluded, “Accountability that is aggressive, predictable, transparent and applicable to perpetrators of genocide and crimes against humanity on all sides of the divide must be pursued now.”
The House also adopted a resolution today by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (NE-01) calling on the Obama Administration to designate the horrific crimes against Christians and other minority beliefs in Syria and Iraq as “genocide.”
During debate on that resolution Smith stated, “We cannot let the cries of the victims go unheeded, as we once did when we were confronted with evidence of genocide in Rwanda.”
On Dec. 9, 2015, Smith chaired a hearing entitled “Fulfilling the Humanitarian Imperative: Assisting Victims of ISIS Violence,” where witnesses cited widespread violence targeting religious minorities such as Christians and Yezidis (a non-Islamic religious minority) in territory controlled by ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
“In very powerful testimony Mr. Ismail, himself a Yezidi leader who stated that his people were ‘on the verge of annihilation,’ called upon the Administration not to neglect others who are also under the sword,” Smith said. “He reminded us that the Yezidis were not alone in facing this barbaric onslaught, but that the ‘Yezidis and Chaldo-Assyrian Christians face this genocide together.’”
Smith said the Syria resolution has broad bi-partisan support, and received input from the State Department as well as a panel of experts at a 2013 hearing he chaired entitled “Establishing a Syrian War Crimes Tribunal.” Click here for information from the hearing, or click here to view a transcript of the hearing. Smith’s resolution was approved at a March 2 hearing by the full Foreign Affairs Committee.