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The Case for Bashar Assad to Be Tried as a War Criminal


Submitted By mightymouse0318
Words 2422
Pages 10
Sara Wadlow
PS 434
Research Paper
May 3, 2015

Introduction The Syrian Civil War has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. Since 2011, protests and attacks have been a daily occurrence, and the regime of Bashar Al-Assad has done what it believed was necessary to stop rebel forces and end protests. As such, Assad has committed many questionable, at best, and criminal, at worst, actions against the civilians of Syria in an effort to stop the rebels. The indiscriminate warfare Assad has used against Syrian citizens is shown in multiple international doctrines as illegal, and is thus a war crime, which should be prosecuted.
The Statue of the International Criminal Court defines war crimes as “serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in international armed conflict” and “serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in an armed conflict not of an international character (ICRC 2016). Section IV of Rule 156 of the International Committee of the Red Cross, titled Other Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law Committed During a Non-International Armed Conflict, lists use of prohibited weapons subject to criminal sanctions, and specifically references the Chemical Weapons Convention, Amended Protocol II to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, and the Ottawa Convention as laying the groundwork for this guideline. This paper will address historical context of the Syrian Civil War, United Nations documents concerning indiscriminate weapons, the use of these indiscriminate weapons in Syria, and precedent for military tribunals.
Arab Spring and Beginnings of Civil War
Protests in Syria started on January 26, 2011, when a police officer assaulted a man in public at Al-Hareeka Street in old Damascus. The man was arrested right after the assault. As a result, protesters called for the freedom of the arrested man. Soon a "day of rage" was set for February 4-5, but it was uneventful (BBC, Mid-East Unrest: Syrian Protests in Damascus and Aleppo 2011). On March 6, the Syrian security forces arrested about 15 children in Daraa, in southern Syria, for writing slogans against the government. Thousands of protesters gathered in Damascus, Aleppo, al-Hasakah, Daraa, Deir ez-Zor, and Hama on 15 March, with recently released politician Suhair Atassi becoming an unofficial spokesperson for the "Syrian revolution (Holliday 2011).” The next day there was reports of approximately 3,000 arrests and a few martyrs, but there are no official figures on the number of deaths. On April 18, 2011, approximately 100,000 protesters sat in the central Square of Homs calling for the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad. By late December, the battles between the government's security forces and the rebel Free Syrian Army intensified in Idlib Governorate. Cities in Idlib and neighborhoods in Homs and Hama began falling into the control of the opposition, during this time, military operations in Homs and Hama stopped.
On January 29, the fourth regiment of the Syrian Army led by the president's brother Maher al-Assad and the Syrian Army dug in at Damascus, and the fighting continued where the FSA was 8 km away from the Republican palace in Damascus (Holliday 2011). Following this, the opposition forces began losing neighborhoods in Homs to the Syrian Army including al-Inshaat, Jobr, Karm el-Zaytoon and only Homs's old neighborhood's, including Al-Khalidiya, Homs|al-Khalidiya, remained in opposition hands. By March 2012, the government began military operations against the opposition in Idlib Governorate including the city of Idlib, which fell to the Army by mid-March (BBC, Syria in Civil War, Red Cross Says 2012).
Legal Doctrine
The Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare, or the Geneva Protocol, is a treaty prohibiting the use of chemical and biological weapons in international armed conflicts. Signed in 1925, this was a step in helping prevent some of the agonizing problems of World War I, but many thought it did not go far enough in preventing the development, distribution, and stockpiling of chemical weapons. This led to the Chemical Weapons Convention, drafted in 1992, and signed by Syrian in 2013, and the establishment of Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in 1997 (UNODA 2016).
Indiscriminate Warfare in Syria The Syrian Regime has been accused of using indiscriminate warfare against its own civilians under the guise of attacking areas harboring extremists. An indiscriminate weapon is a weapon that cannot be directed at a military objective or whose effects cannot be limited as required by international humanitarian law. Under international humanitarian law, the use of such an inherently indiscriminate weapon is prohibited (Geneva Academy 2013). The International Court of Justice has recognized the principle of distinction as one of the two cardinal principles contained in the texts constituting the fabric of humanitarian law. As a consequence of the requirement to distinguish at all times between combatants and military objectives on the one hand, and civilians and civilian objects on the other hand, it is prohibited under international humanitarian law to launch indiscriminate attacks. Indiscriminate attacks include those, which employ a method or means of combat, which cannot be directed at a specific military objective (Geneva Academy 2013). Examples of these attacks are barrel bombs and the use of sarin gas. A barrel bomb is an improvised explosive device made from a barrel and filled with explosives and shrapnel, then dropped from a helicopter. These bombs can also be filled with chemical agents, such as in the Kafr Zita attack in 2014. Between January 2014 and March 2015, 3,124 civilians were killed by barrel bomb while only 35 confirmed rebel fighters were killed. In these attacks, three schools were hit, while 17 hospitals and 23 mosques were damaged or destroyed (BBC 2015).
A chemical weapon is any weapon that uses a manufactured chemical to kill people. The first chemical weapon used effectively in battle was chlorine gas, which burns and destroys lung tissue. In World War I, the German army released tons of the gas to create a cloud that the wind carried toward the enemy (Brain 2001). Modern chemical weapons tend to focus on agents with much greater killing power, meaning that it takes a lot less of the chemical to kill the same number of people. Sarin is a nerve agent. Once inside the body, nerve agents affect the signaling mechanism that nerve cells use to communicate with one another.
Sarin is a cholinesterase inhibitor. It gums up the cholinesterase enzyme, which nerve cells use to clear themselves of acetylcholine. When a nerve cell needs to send a message to another nerve cell- for example, to cause a muscle to contract- it sends the message with the acetylcholine. Without cholinesterase to clear the acetylcholine, muscles start to contract uncontrollably. This eventually causes death by suffocation since the diaphragm is a muscle. It acts in five to 12 hours. It is not particularly difficult to manufacture, and if you were trapped in a one-cubic-meter closet with 100 milligrams of sarin in the air, inhaling it would kill you in 1 minute (Daniel C Keyes 2015).
A UN fact-finding mission was requested by member states to investigate 16 alleged chemical weapon attacks. After nine were dropped for insufficient evidence, seven were investigated, and four cases were confirmed the use of sarin gas in Khan Al-Assal, Saraqib, and Ghouta, where over 1,300 people were killed from contact with sarin gas on August 21, 2013 (Sellstrom 2013). The Russian Khan Al-Asal investigation also found use of chemical agents on March 19, 2013. On 29 April 2014, the Director General Ahmet Üzümcü of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) announced the creation of an OPCW mission to establish the facts surrounding allegations of the use of chlorine gas for hostile purposes in Syria. The Syrian Government has agreed to the mission On May 27, 2014, members of the mission were ambushed and briefly held by gunmen in rebel-held territory as it headed toward Kafr Zita to investigate the alleged chlorine gas attacks. The opposition Hama Media Centre said Assad’s forces carried out the attack on the convoy (Deutsch 2014).
Precedent of Military Tribunals Nuremberg trials were a series of military tribunals held by the Allied forces after World War II. The tribunal was responsible for trying 23 of the surviving highest-ranking leaders of the Third Reich for crimes committed during the Holocaust. The concept for the Nuremberg trials came from the Leipzig War Crimes Trials held after World War I (Solis 1999). The International Military Tribunal was opened on November 19, 1945, in the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg. The first session was presided over by the Soviet judge, Nikitchenko. The prosecution entered indictments against 24 major war criminals and seven organizations – the leadership of the Nazi party, the Reich Cabinet, the Schutzstaffel, Sicherheitsdienst, the Gestapo, the Sturmabteilung and the "General Staff and High Command", comprising several categories of senior military officers. These organizations were to be declared "criminal" if found guilty. The indictments were for participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of a crime against peace, planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression and other crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity (The Sunday Times 2006). Twelve of those on trial were sentenced to death, and the sentences were carried out on October 16, 1946. Three others were acquitted, and the remaining defendants received prison terms. The trial of Saddam Hussein was the trial of the deposed President of Saddam Hussein by the Iraqi interim government for crimes against humanity during his time in office. The Coalition Provisional Authority voted to create the Iraqi Special Tribunal, consisting of five Iraqi judges, on December 9, 2003, to try Saddam Hussein and his aides for charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide (Sachs 2003). On November 5, 2006, Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death by hanging for the killing of 148 Shiites from Dujail, in retaliation for the assassination attempt of 8 July 1982. When the judge announced the verdict, Saddam shouted, "Long live the people. Long live the Arab nation. Down with the spies. God is great (AssociatedPress 2006)." Chief defense lawyer Khalil al-Dulaimi later quoted a statement from Saddam Hussein given just before the Court issued its verdict. He said that Saddam urged his countrymen to "unify in the face of sectarian strife". Al-Dulaimi added that Saddam's message to the people was to "pardon and do not take revenge on the invading nations, its civilians (News 2006).” An appeal, mandated by the Iraqi judicial system, followed. There was speculation that the appeals could last years, postponing his actual execution. However, on December 26, Saddam's appeal was rejected and the death sentence was given (Semple 2006). No further appeals were possible and Saddam had to be executed within 30 days of that date. The decision still had to be ratified by the Iraqi President but could not be commuted. Judge Arif Shaheen, one of the nine appeal judges, said, "It cannot exceed 30 days. As from tomorrow the sentence could be carried out at any time. The appeals court has issued its verdict. What we have decided today is compulsory." On December 30, 2006 at approximately 6:05 am Baghdad time, Saddam Hussein's sentence was carried out and he was executed by hanging (News 2006).
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s condoning of indiscriminate weaponry while trying to stop the rebels in the Syrian shows a complete disregard for the well being of the Syrian citizens. These actions are criminal, as they’ve directly resulted in the deaths of men, women, and young children. Indiscriminate weapons and the use of chemical weapons in particular are directly outlawed in several authority doctrines, including the International Humanitarian Law and the Convention on Chemical Weapons. As the Syrian regime signed off on these documents and was fully aware of their statements, Assad has entered into a contract with the international community to not injure and kill civilians. Different organizations within the international community have examined these allegations, and given the precedent of military tribunals held for pervious war crimes, it is evident that Assad’s actions mirror those of previously convicted war criminals and he should be prosecuted for these crimes.

Works Cited
AssociatedPress. Sadam Urges Iraqis Not to Take Revenge on US. Nov 5, 2006.
BBC. Mid-East Unrest: Syrian Protests in Damascus and Aleppo. March 15, 2011.
—. Syria in Civil War, Red Cross Says. July 15, 2012.
—. Syrian Conflict: Aleppo Civilians Suffer "Unthinkable Atrocities". May 5, 2015.
Brain, Marshall. How Biological and Chemical Warfare Works. Sept. 27, 2001.
Daniel C Keyes, MD, MPH. Medscape. Feb 2016, 2015.
Deutsch, Anthony. Chemical Weapons Team in Syria Attacked But Safe: OPCW. May 27, 2014.
Geneva Academy. Indiscriminate Weapon. Dec 7, 2013.
Holliday, Joseph. The Struggle for Syria in 2011. Dec 2011.
ICRC. Rule 156. Definition of War Crimes. 2016.
News, NBC. Saddam Hussein Executed, Ending Era in Iraq. Dec 30, 2006.
Sachs, Susan. Iraqi Governing Council Sets Up Its Own Court for War Crimes. Dec 10, 2003.
Sellstrom, Ake. United Nations Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic. Dec 2013.
Semple, Kirk. Saddam Hussein Is Sentenced to Death. Nov 5, 2006.
Solis, Gary. "Obedience of Orders and the Law of War: Judicial Application in American Forums." American University International Law Review, 1999: 481-526.
The Sunday Times. Churchill: Execute Hitler Without trial. Jan 1, 2006.
UNODA. United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs. 2016.

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