A war-crimes tribunal run by the Arab League could be the
solution to Syrian atrocities.
The United States and other governments don't want to intervene
militarily in Syria. That's understandable; hardly anyone wants
another Middle East war.
In seeking other ways to ensure that the Syrian government and
its henchmen pay a price for slaughtering their citizens, U.S.
officials are seeking ways to bring them to justice. A war crimes
tribunal run by the Arab League could be the solution. The
experience of war-torn countries like Bosnia has proved that such
tribunals can work, if properly designed.
Last weekend, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that
the United States would "support and train Syrian citizens working
to document atrocities, identify perpetrators, and safeguard
evidence for future investigations and prosecutions." A difficulty
with this plan, however, is how to use the evidence that is
collected. Syria is not a party to the treaty for the International
Criminal Court in The Hague, and Russia and China would most likely
use their veto power to block any United Nations Security Council
effort to refer the case to the court.
To overcome such obstructionism, another innovation is required:
an Arab League tribunal to deal with the crimes against humanity
that are taking place in Syria. Such a tribunal could have Arab
judges, Arab prosecutors, Arab investigators and Arab defense
attorneys and conduct its proceedings in Arabic. The Arab League
could give it jurisdiction over crimes against humanity and war
crimes as the treaty for the International Criminal Court defines
them. And such a court should have jurisdiction over all crimes,
including those committed by rebels. It is essential to uphold the
principle that, no matter the justice of the cause or the crimes
committed by one's opponents, all must be held to the same
Because it would take time to establish such a tribunal and
because there is an urgent need to stop Syrian forces from
committing more crimes, the Arab League could specify that
prosecutions for crimes committed after the resolution's adoption
would have priority. That would put the forces of Syria's president,
Bashar al-Assad, on notice that the surest way to end up in the dock
is to persist in the crimes they have been committing.
We should not grant them impunity for crimes committed up to now.
But the urgent need to prevent further atrocities justifies giving
them an incentive to stop. Of course, some of those responsible for
crimes would imagine that they would never be apprehended and
brought to justice. …