April 10, 2014

Accountability For War Crimes In Syria

     Mr. CARDIN.  Mr. President, I rise to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria.  Last month marked the three year anniversary since the brutal conflict began.  According to the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2139, which was unanimously accepted in February of this year, the conflict has resulted in the death of over 140,000 people in Syria, including at least 10,000 children.  UNICEF reports that Syria is among the most dangerous places on Earth to be a child, pointing to high child casualty rates, brutalizing and traumatic violence, deteriorating access to education, and health concerns. The number of children suffering in Syria more than doubled in the third year of the conflict. 

 

     And the crisis is only getting worse. Hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians are under fire by government and opposition forces in violation of internationally accepted Laws of Armed Conflict.  These war crimes are truly devastating, and to escape the violence, millions of refugees have flooded into neighboring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, while thousands more remain internally displaced inside Syria Last year I visited the Kilis refugee camp in Turkey which is currently sheltering more than 14,000 Syrian refugees. I witnessed first-hand the remarkable bravery of the Syrian refugee population. Many of these families relocated several times within Syria before ultimately making the heart-wrenching decision to leave their country in order to seek food, medical attention, and safety outside of Syria. 

 

     The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has registered more than 2.6 million Syrian refugees with women and children making up more than 80 percent of the refugee population. By the end of this year, the United Nations estimates that the number of refugees could increase to 4 million. 

 

     That is why I am a cosponsor of the Syria Humanitarian Resolution of 2014, which urges all parties in Syria to allow for and facilitate immediate, unfettered access to humanitarian aid throughout the Syrian Arab Republic.  This legislation calls for the safety, security, independence, and impartiality of humanitarian workers and demands freedom of movement to deliver aid.

 

     I remain deeply concerned by the instability of the entire region, as violence spills over into neighboring countries such as Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel. 

 

     Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has testified that, “In Syria, the ongoing civil war will probably heighten regional and sectarian tensions.”  The influx of Syrian refugees to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq is putting a strain on those countries’ resources.

 

     The United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic reports that pro-government forces have murdered, tortured, assaulted, and raped civilians in Syria.  Anti-government groups have also engaged in murder, execution without due process, torture, hostage-taking, and shelling of civilian neighborhoods.

 

     But nowhere is the brutality of this war more evident than in the events of August 21, 2013, when the Syrian Army, under the direction of President Assad, launched a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs.  This attack left over 1,400 innocent Syrian civilians dead—many of whom were children.

 

     Assad's criminal use of chemical weapons against his own people is morally reprehensible and violates internationally accepted rules of war.  The international community cannot stand by and allow the murder of innocent men, women, and children to go unchallenged.  We must bring Assad and all other perpetrators of gross human rights violations in the Syrian conflict to justice.

 

     Mr. President, it is clear that we must take action.  Last week I introduced, the Syrian War Crimes Accountability Act of 2014, S. 2209 along with Senator’s Rubio and Kaine.

 

     My bill strongly condemns the ongoing violence, the use of chemical weapons, the targeting of civilian populations, and the systematic gross human rights violations carried out by both the Syrian government and opposition forces. 

 

     My legislation requires the Secretary of State to provide Congress with a description of violations of internationally recognized human rights abuses and crimes against humanity committed during the conflict in Syria.  Finally, the bill requires the Secretary to report to Congress on efforts by the Department of State and USAID to ensure accountability for these violations and provide a review of the facts concerning any prosecution in the case of Syrian crimes that could be defined under universal jurisdiction.

     This Monday marked the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda.  Unfortunately, we have not learned the lessons of the past. We must do better to not only see that sort of atrocities never again occur under our watch, but to ensure that the perpetrators of such heinous crimes are held accountable for their actions.

 

     Ignoring the crisis in Syria is both morally wrong and counterproductive to our national security and that of our allies.  War tactics employed in Syria by government and some opposition forces fly in the face of the rules of war. For the sake of our national security interests and regional stability, we cannot turn a blind eye to these heinous acts. 

 

     I strongly believe that there are times when the international community must come together to end atrocities, protect innocent lives from crimes against humanity and hold accountable the groups that perpetrate them.

 

     The Syrian War Crimes Accountability Act of 2014 sends a strong message to the international community that the United States is firmly committed to bringing all perpetrators of international crimes in Syria to justice. I urge my Senate colleagues to join me in supporting this important legislation.

 

 

 

###