The International Criminal Court prosecutor once recommended issuing an international arrest warrant for Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, noting that there was a “strong case” against him. In an interview with Canada’s national broadcaster CBS, he said that the implementation of this guarantee could be entrusted to international and local forces. The prosecutor expressed his regret that it was not planned to implement this, especially because it would not be an invasion to send foreign forces to arrest Assad, he would achieve justice. He noted that Assad was defiant because we – the international community – do nothing but talk.
To emphasize that last point, I must point out that the prosecutor in question was not the holder of the ICC, Karim Khan, but one of his predecessors, Luis Moreno Ocampo. Moreover, Ocampo made his statement in November 2012, less than two years after the uprising against Assad and before everyone became aware of the atrocities committed by his regime.
If Ocampo said the case for arresting Assad was “strong” in 2012, how should it be now, after twelve years of violations, death and destruction that have turned half of the Syrian population into refugees and internally displaced people? Why has the ICC still seen no merit in issuing an arrest warrant against the president of Syria, and is still rushing to issue one against Russian President Vladimir Putin just one year after he invaded Ukraine?
READ: Putin makes first phone call to Sultan of Oman since diplomatic relations were established
There is no point, of course, in crying again about the inaction of Western presidents and prime ministers who have committed documented atrocities in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere with impunity. Nor is it useful to emphasize the clear double standards that have kept all of Israel’s prime ministers safe from prosecution. As we well know, they seem to be above the law and can also act with impunity. It is not worth asking why, for example, the International Court of Justice is welcoming the demand of the Sudanese leaders to hand over the ousted President Omar Al-Bashir to be tried for the crimes for which he is responsible in the Darfur region, as about. these leaders were able to achieve some “mitigating circumstances” thanks to their relations with Israel and the US.
Turning a blind eye to the crimes of which Bashar al-Assad is accused is precisely what has enabled the world to accept, gradually and to varying degrees, the idea that he is left in general and without face nothing more serious than reports from human rights organizations. and several failed attempts to prosecute him. One such attempt was the case filed against him by a group of lawyers in March 2019, the first filed against him at the ICC in The Hague. It was submitted on behalf of 28 Syrian refugees in Jordan, who said they had been forced to leave their country. They urged the court to investigate possible crimes against humanity since peaceful civil society protests against the Syrian regime began in 2011 demanding a change of government.
It is true that Syria is not a member of the ICC, but neither is Russia, so why has the former been ignored but not? And why go after Putin only for his actions in Ukraine, but not in Syria to support the Assad regime? Russia has been involved in Syria since September 2015 as a partner in some very serious crimes committed in the country.
OPINION: A referendum on a new constitution is not the cure Tunisia needs
This international inaction, especially since Barack Obama backed away from his “red lines” when Assad used chemical weapons against his own people, followed by Donald Trump’s empty threats, has diluted the whole story. Treading cautiously at first, the Arab countries then went all out to restore relations with the Syrian president, with complete disregard for his half a million victims. This turned the knife in their back and rubbed salt in their wounds.
Normalizing Syria under Assad is morally different from normalizing Israel; Those who have no shame in siding with Israelis who maintain a brutal military occupation of the Palestinians will have no shame in doing the same to someone who has brutalized his people without mercy. Any free Syrian can accept normalization with the Damascus regime only with great reluctance.
What is unacceptable as far as the free Syrians are concerned, however, is their Palestinian brothers who identify themselves as part of the resistance and constantly appeal to the conscience of people near and far for their support , to initiate reconciliation with the Assad family despite their crimes. against the Syrian people, and even against the Palestinians themselves. It could be argued that Assad’s crimes against the Palestinians are even more serious than those committed by Israel.
In the end, there is nothing criminal among Middle Eastern politicians that Western governments do not see. But anyone who wants to be exempt from accountability is forgiven no matter what they do. At the same time, the West only sees the victims that it suits to see “national interests”, and they ignore the others.
This article was first published in Arabic in Al-Quds Al-Arabi on 29 March 2023
OPINION: What is the solution for Tunisia?
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.