The justice route to end Syria’s war

Russian bombing of Aleppo has led France, Britain, and the US to call for a war-crimes investigation. The prospect of Russian leaders being prosecuted by a tribunal might give them an incentive to make peace. A tribunal would also help heal a postwar Syria.

Reuters
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin to the United Nations vetoes an Oct. 8 draft resolution in the Security Council that demands an immediate end to air strikes and military flights over Syria's Aleppo city.

In the past few decades, the international community has set up six major war crimes tribunals, such as for Rwanda and Cambodia. Not all were able to hold perpetrators to account. Nor have these courts always helped in the ultimate goal of national reconciliation and societal healing. Yet that has not stopped efforts to prepare for a new tribunal to prosecute war crimes in Syria once that country’s conflict ends.

For five years, a number of humanitarian groups have been diligently collecting evidence of mass crimes in Syria’s war, in which an estimated 400,000 have been killed. In recent days, the prospects of establishing a war crimes tribunal for Syria has improved. France, Britain, and the United States have called for an investigation of Russia for war crimes as a result of its bombing of civilian areas – including hospitals – in Syria’s largest city of Aleppo.

Since the end of a cease-fire last month, hundreds in Aleppo have been killed by either Russian or Syrian war planes. “This is a targeted strategy to terrorize civilians,” said US Secretary of State John Kerry. Russia’s goal may be to help the Syrian regime gain an upper hand in any peace negotiations and to stay in power.

Shining a light of truth on mass atrocities in Aleppo, where an estimated 275,000 civilians are under siege, would be just the first step toward reparative justice in a postwar Syria. If an international tribunal finds that both Russia and the Syrian regime are guilty of war crimes, it could help prevent a cycle of revenge and serve as a deterrent for war crimes in the Middle East.

Merely calling for a probe may help entice Russian military leaders, including President Vladimir Putin, to bring a quick end to the war. They do not want to become international outlaws wanted by a tribunal.

Russia can use its veto power at the United Nations to block an attempt by the Security Council to request prosecution of war crimes in Syria by the International Criminal Court, a permanent tribunal in The Hague. This would be a shame as the UN’s prime purpose is “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” But legal scholars say there might be other ways to set up a special court. Or individual countries might be able to prosecute perpetrators. Truth-telling about war crimes and justice for Syria would be the first step to heal a nation torn by war.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.