The real question on Syria: Why no war crimes indictments yet?
Crackdowns on the scale of Syria's have prompted action by the International Criminal Court elsewhere. The ICC opened an investigation against Qaddafi just three weeks into Libya's uprising.
The ongoing crackdown on protesters against Syria's Baathist dictatorship has gone from one atrocity to the next as flustered foreign governments, with few cards to play against a regime seemingly determined to hold on at all costs, have looked on mostly helplessly.Skip to next paragraph
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The US has placed sanctions on President Bashar al-Assad and some of his closest allies, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton implored other countries to follow suit yesterday. Saudi Arabia, not exactly a friend of democratic change in the region, pulled its ambassador to Damascus in response to the killing of hundreds of protesters during the holy month of Ramadan. And in the US, there are growing calls for President Barack Obama to demand that President Assad step aside, as Peter Grier reports for us today.
But if one thing is clear from Mr. Assad's actions in recent months, the utterance of "magic democracy words" by Obama (as some supporters of his policy of keeping Ambassador Robert Ford in Damascus call them) won't shift the regime by themselves.
What's been more striking to me, given the mounting evidence that Syria is deliberately turning portions of restive cities into free-fire zones and torturing protesters to death in custody, including some teenage boys, is the lack of action from the International Criminal Court (ICC). In the past day alone, 17 protesters have been killed by security forces across the country, Al Jazeera reports. In Hama, a restive city where Assad's father and predecessor ordered thousands killed in the early 1980s for rising up against him, local activists say 200 have been killed since the start of Ramadan on Aug. 1 and more than 1,000 arrested.
Syria is five months into its uprising, and more than 2,000 people have been killed so far. The ICC opened up a formal investigation into Qaddafi and some of his lieutenants just three weeks into the country's uprising. Chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo requested arrest warrants on May 16, which were duly handed out on June 27.
Mr. Moreno-Ocampo, who has been vigorous in his complaints about crimes in Libya, has been largely silent on Syria. But the violence in Syria has been as bad, or worse, than in Libya, and it's clearly being carried out as part of an orchestrated campaign.
For all the claims every time indictments are handed out that a message has been sent to present and future war criminals and that the ICC is having a deterrent effect on the behavior of regimes that, after all, are fighting for their survival, Syria is a reminder that not all war crimes are created equal. The context matters – who you are, who your friends are, and how afraid major powers are of the consequences.