A Step Toward Accountability in Syria

April 2, 2012

Friends of Syria Conference
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shakes hands with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the "Friends of the Syrian People" conference in Istanbul, April 1, 2012. Yasin Bulbul/AFP/Getty Images

This weekend, the roughly 80 nations that make up the “Friends of the Syrian People” conference met in Istanbul, Turkey, to decide next steps in dealing with the ongoing conflict and human rights crisis in Syria. Bloomberg and other media reports indicate that the group of nations has formally adopted a US government proposal to “form an accountability group to track human rights violations and atrocities.”

According to Bloomberg, the US government will provide $1.25 million to fund the effort:

The group would train and mentor Syrian investigators and lawyers, establish a secure database to store the information, and establish a prosecutor’s unit to collect and analyze evidence that could be used against regime officials in Syrian or international courts, the State Department official said.

Such an effort is a welcome step in the pursuit of accountability for the Syrian government and justice for the Syrian people. The initiative should help ensure that the crimes against humanity and other human rights violations perpetrated by the Syrian government are carefully and credibly documented so that victims of torture and other violations have a greater chance of obtaining justice, be it in Syria or in an international forum. Russian and Chinese vetoes of UN Security Council action on Syria mean that Bashar Al-Assad and those that abet his crimes will not go to the International Criminal Court (ICC) anytime soon. With ICC referral out of reach for now, the efforts of “Friends of Syria” to lay the groundwork for future accountability are particularly important.

It goes without saying that the effort should be conducted in an impartial and independent manner. That means that the accountability group should also document reports of human rights abuses committed by members of armed opposition groups.

If successful, this plan could create an important precedent and model for the international community to foster accountability.