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Push for Syrian war crimes court

By Toby Sterling

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Sept. 27 2013 8:42 a.m. MDT

In this Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013 photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad speaks during an interview with Venezuela's state-run Telesur network, in Damascus, Syria.

Uncredited, Associated Press

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AMSTERDAM — A group of international war crimes experts is calling for the creation of a war crimes court in Damascus to try top-ranking Syrian politicians and soldiers when the country's civil war ends.

Professor Michael Scharf of Case Western Reserve University, acting as spokesman, told The Associated Press on Friday that draft statutes for such a court have been quietly under development for nearly two years.

"We believe it's playing a role in closed-door discussions throughout the U.S. government," Scharf said.

Scharf said the group is going public now to push the issue of accountability for war crimes into the ongoing international discussions over Syria, and in hopes the prospect will deter combatants from committing further atrocities, such as the violation of the Geneva Protocol in the Aug. 21 use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Syria is not a party to the International Criminal Court — the permanent war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands — so the ICC doesn't have jurisdiction over war crimes committed there. It could only be granted jurisdiction by order of the U.N. Security Council, which would likely be blocked by Russia and China.

However, conflict-specific war crime courts such as the proposed "Syrian Extraordinary Tribunal to Prosecute Atrocity Crimes" can and have been created in individual countries in recent years. Scharf himself was an adviser to judges at the Iraqi High Tribunal, which tried Saddam Hussein.

The experts who participated in creating the Syrian draft statutes, which are to be formally introduced at the National Press Club in Washington on Oct. 3, have no political power, though they are well-known figures internationally.

One of the many experts who have participated in the creation of the draft statutes is Egyptian-born legal scholar Mahmoud Cherif Bassiouni, who chaired the drafting of the ICC's statutes. Another is South Africa's Richard Goldstone, renowned for his commission investigating Apartheid-era violence in South Africa in the early 1990s, and as the first prosecutor of the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

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