Law’s Michael Scharf helps plan tribunal to prosecute perpetrators of atrocities in Syria

Michael ScharfA blue ribbon panel of former international tribunal prosecutors, international tribunal judges and leading academics, led by Case Western Reserve University Law Professor Michael Scharf and David Crane, former chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, presented a blueprint for a tribunal to prosecute perpetrators of atrocities in Syria.

The panel’s “Statute for a Syrian Extraordinary Tribunal to Prosecute Atrocity Crimes” was discussed in Washington, D.C., at The National Press Club on Oct. 3.

The event was moderated by Paul Williams, president of the Public International Law & Policy Group.

The government of Syria has admitted possessing chemical weapons. The United Nations has confirmed that use of chemical weapons in Syria has resulted in over 1,400 people killed during August near Damascus. A plan for ridding Syria of chemical weapons is being negotiated at the United Nations Security Council.

But those actions also raise questions about holding the perpetrators accountable for violating the Geneva Conventions and the 1925 Chemical Weapons Treaty, panel members have determined.

“The members of the Blue Ribbon Panel believe the time is particularly ripe for this initiative,” Scharf said. “It can help the Syrian opposition demonstrate its commitment to the rule of law, ensure that accountability plays an appropriate role in peace negotiations, put Syrian officials and military commanders on all sides on notice of potential criminal liability, and lay the groundwork for justice rather than revenge in the immediate aftermath of transition.”

Congressional hearings are possible soon to consider U.S. Rep. Chris Smith’s concurrent resolution on establishing accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria.  Smith (R-New Jersey) recommends establishing an international tribunal to prosecute top Syrian figures. The blue ribbon panel’s draft statute recommends an internationalized domestic tribunal to prosecute the culpable civilian and military leaders.

The proposal to establish a Syria tribunal reflects insights gained from a series of meetings and workshops over the past two years led by the Public International Law & Policy Group, a non-governmental organization co-founded by Scharf and Williams that brought together Syrian lawyers, jurists and civil society leaders with international experts to discuss transitional justice in Syria. “It also reflects comments received from the distinguished members of our expert drafting committee,” Scharf said.