Is Syria Setting Itself Up for International Prosecution?

By agreeing to give up its chemical weapons, the Syrian government could be opening the door for legal punishment.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad walks past a French honor guard in Paris in 2010.
National Journal
Marina Koren
Add to Briefcase
Marina Koren
Sept. 10, 2013, 12:29 p.m.

The latest in a string of de­vel­op­ments bor­der­ing on ac­tion-film-style pa­cing is a stun­ner: The Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment is ready to re­veal its chem­ic­al weapons — that it denied it even pos­sessed as re­cently as Sunday — and hand them over to the in­ter­na­tion­al com­munity to be des­troyed.

Rus­sia Today re­ports that Syr­i­an For­eign Min­is­ter Wal­id Mu­allem says the coun­try is ready to sign the Chem­ic­al Weapons Con­ven­tion — a 1993 arms agree­ment that out­laws the pro­duc­tion, stock­pil­ing, and use of chem­ic­al weapons — which 189 coun­tries, in­clud­ing the United States, have signed. The an­nounce­ment comes on the heels of a pro­pos­al by Rus­sia on Monday, triggered by a seem­ingly off­hand re­mark by Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry, that Syr­ia put its chem­ic­al weapons un­der in­ter­na­tion­al con­trol to avoid U.S. mil­it­ary ag­gres­sion. In an in­ter­view with a Le­ban­on-based chan­nel, Mu­allem said:

We are ready to ful­fill our ob­lig­a­tions in com­pli­ance with this treaty, in­clud­ing through the pro­vi­sion of in­form­a­tion about our chem­ic­al weapons. We will open our stor­age sites, and cease pro­duc­tion. We are ready to open these fa­cil­it­ies to Rus­sia, oth­er coun­tries and the United Na­tions.

France is cur­rently work­ing on a res­ol­u­tion to put be­fore the United Na­tions Se­cur­ity Coun­cil that de­mands the in­spec­tion, con­fis­ca­tion, and de­struc­tion of Syr­ia’s chem­ic­al-weapons stock­pile. Should Syr­ia agree to and then later vi­ol­ate the agree­ment, French For­eign Min­is­ter Laurent Fabi­us said there would be “very ser­i­ous con­sequences.”

If Syr­ia signs on to the CWC and pub­li­cizes its stor­age sites, a flood of U.N. in­spect­ors will likely enter the coun­try to in­spect the stock­pile. Al­though not every­one in the in­ter­na­tion­al com­munity is con­vinced, U.S. of­fi­cials say they’ve already got enough evid­ence to say that As­sad was be­hind the Aug. 21 at­tacks that killed more than 1,400 ci­vil­ians. If that’s true, and fu­ture in­vest­ig­a­tions start to sway the pub­lic to that claim, what will hap­pen to As­sad?

Fabi­us says the Syr­i­an pres­id­ent would have to resign, at the very least. “We can’t ima­gine that someone who was re­spons­ible for 110,000 dead, it is said, can stay in power forever.”

With all the talk of pre­serving in­ter­na­tion­al norms when it comes to chem­ic­al-weapons use, it’s tough to ima­gine a po­ten­tial As­sad resig­na­tion will be any­where near enough for those in­volved. The Syr­i­an Na­tion­al Co­ali­tion, the op­pos­i­tion to the As­sad re­gime, voiced this sen­ti­ment in a state­ment on Tues­day: “Crimes against hu­man­ity can­not be dropped by giv­ing polit­ic­al con­ces­sions or by hand­ing over the weapons used in these crimes.” It’s un­likely world powers, es­pe­cially the U.S., will set such a pre­ced­ent that sug­gests the act of own­ing up is enough to es­cape justice when it comes to chem­ic­al weapons.

The CWC out­lines that the use of chem­ic­al weapons is pro­hib­ited in all cir­cum­stances, in­clud­ing in non-in­ter­na­tion­al armed con­flicts. The agree­ment could keep Syr­ia’s chem­ic­al-weapons pro­gram in check, but there are no pro­vi­sions about pun­ish­ment of the lead­ers who built the pro­gram. The Rome Stat­ute, the treaty that es­tab­lished the In­ter­na­tion­al Crim­in­al Court, lists “em­ploy­ing as­phyxi­at­ing, pois­on­ous or oth­er gases, and all ana­log­ous li­quids, ma­ter­i­als or devices” as a vi­ol­a­tion of in­ter­na­tion­al law. Syr­ia isn’t party to the ICC (neither is the U.S.), but As­sad could be charged if the U.N. Se­cur­ity Coun­cil suc­cess­fully refers his case to the court. Slate points out that Rus­sia and China will make such a move dif­fi­cult, but the U.S. and France may still put up a fight.

For world powers, it’s too early to start think­ing about what to do with As­sad if the U.N. steps in — es­pe­cially since talks about con­crete lan­guage from Rus­sia on a res­ol­u­tion have already hit a snag. France’s draft res­ol­u­tion, sup­por­ted by the U.S., is set to be un­der Chapter 7 of the U.N. charter, mak­ing it en­force­able with mil­it­ary ac­tion. Ac­cord­ing to the AP, Pres­id­ent Vladi­mir Putin said the plan to take away Syr­ia’s chem­ic­al weapons will only work if “the Amer­ic­an side and those who sup­port the U.S.A, in this sense, re­ject the use of force.”

What We're Following See More »
TWO MONTHS AFTER REFUSING AT CONVENTION
Cruz to Back Trump
1 days ago
THE LATEST
WHO TO BELIEVE?
Two Polls for Clinton, One for Trump
1 days ago
THE LATEST

With three days until the first debate, the polls are coming fast and furious. The latest round:

  • An Associated Press/Gfk poll of registered voters found very few voters committed, with Clin­ton lead­ing Trump, 37% to 29%, and Gary John­son at 7%.
  • A Mc­Clatchy-Mar­ist poll gave Clin­ton a six-point edge, 45% to 39%, in a four-way bal­lot test. Johnson pulls 10% support, with Jill Stein at 4%.
  • Rasmussen, which has drawn criticism for continually showing Donald Trump doing much better than he does in other polls, is at it again. A new survey gives Trump a five-point lead, 44%-39%.
NO SURPRISE
Trump Eschewing Briefing Materials in Debate Prep
1 days ago
THE DETAILS

In contrast to Hillary Clinton's meticulous debate practice sessions, Donald Trump "is largely shun­ning tra­di­tion­al de­bate pre­par­a­tions, but has been watch­ing video of…Clin­ton’s best and worst de­bate mo­ments, look­ing for her vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies.” Trump “has paid only curs­ory at­ten­tion to brief­ing ma­ter­i­als. He has re­fused to use lecterns in mock de­bate ses­sions des­pite the ur­ging of his ad­visers. He prefers spit­balling ideas with his team rather than hon­ing them in­to crisp, two-minute an­swers.”

Source:
TRUMP NO HABLA ESPANOL
Trump Makes No Outreach to Spanish Speakers
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Donald Trump "is on the precipice of becoming the only major-party presidential candidate this century not to reach out to millions of American voters whose dominant, first or just preferred language is Spanish. Trump has not only failed to buy any Spanish-language television or radio ads, he so far has avoided even offering a translation of his website into Spanish, breaking with two decades of bipartisan tradition."

Source:
$1.16 MILLION
Clintons Buy the House Next Door in Chappaqua
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Bill and Hillary Clinton have purchased the home next door to their primary residence in tony Chappaqua, New York, for $1.16 million. "By purchasing the new home, the Clinton's now own the entire cul-de-sac at the end of the road in the leafy New York suburb. The purchase makes it easier for the United States Secret Service to protect the former president and possible future commander in chief."

Source:
×