WASHINGTON- U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), both members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, have joined with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) to introduce S. 756, the Syrian War Crimes Accountability Act of 2015, legislation that would establish a Syria-specific standard of reporting and accountability for crimes against humanity.
In the four years since the war in Syria began, one thing has remained clear: war tactics employed in Syria by both government and opposition forces constitute gross violations of human rights and war crimes. This new legislation would require the U.S. State Department to report to relevant congressional committees on war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Syria by both the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and violent extremist groups and other combatants involved in the conflict. The report also requires a description of U.S. government efforts to ensure accountability for human rights violations in Syria.
“The war tactics employed in Syria by both government and opposition forces fly in the face of the rules of war. We must shine a light on the atrocities that have been committed in Syria and demand accountability,” said Senator Cardin. “Ignoring these violations sends a message to the global community that war crimes and crimes against humanity are tolerable. The Syrian people deserve much more. The United States cannot stand idly by and allow the gross violation of human rights in Syria to go unchallenged. We remain firmly committed to bringing all perpetrators of international crimes in Syria to justice.”
“For four years the Assad regime and violent extremists in Syria have committed horrific human rights violations at the expense of millions of innocent Syrians,” Senator Rubio said. “These brutal crimes against civilians are appalling. The perpetrators deserve to be brought to justice, and this bill is a first step towards ensuring those responsible for human rights abuses are held accountable.”
“As the Assad regime continues to use deadly force and indiscriminate weapons, like barrel bombs, killing and maiming thousands of men, women and children, ISIS and al-Qaeda’s affiliates in Syria have perpetrated massive human rights violation against innocent people. These brutal and horrific crimes are appalling,” said Senator Menendez. “We have a moral obligation to the Syrian people to do everything possible to ensure that the heinous crimes committed by the Assad regime and terrorist organizations over the past four years are documented and do not go unpunished.”
Sunday March 15, 2015 marked the fourth anniversary of the beginning of the Syrian civil war. Since this brutal war began, more than 3.8 million Syrians have fled Syria, 7.6 million have been displaced inside Syria, and 12.2 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance.
The United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria has reported that pro-government forces have murdered, tortured, assaulted, and raped civilians in Syria. Anti-government groups have engaged in murder, execution, torture, hostage-taking, and shelling of civilian neighborhoods. Medical workers and hospitals across Syria have also been targeted. More than 205,000 people have died as a result of the war. And this past year was the deadliest year since the conflict began with more than 76,000 dying in 2014 alone, including more than 3,500 children.
Nowhere has the brutality of this war been 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 killing 1,400 Syrians. The Commission’s February 2015 report stated that Syria’s civil war “has been characterized by massive, recurrent violations of human rights and international humanitarian law that demand urgent international and national action.”
S. 756, the Syrian War Crimes Accountability Act would establish a standard of reporting and accountability for crimes against humanity occurring in Syria. The bill would require the Secretary of State to submit a report to relevant Congressional Committees on war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria no later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of the Act and 180 days after the cessation of violence in Syria.
The Report must contain a description of violations of internationally recognized human rights, war crimes, and crimes against humanity perpetrated during the civil war in Syria, including:
- incidents that may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and all forces fighting on its behalf;
- incidents that may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by violent extremist groups, anti-government forces, and any other combatants in the conflict;
- incidents that may violate the principle of medical neutrality; and
- where possible, a description of the conventional and unconventional weapons used for such crimes and, the origins of the weapons.
In addition to documenting violations of internationally recognized human rights, this bill would also require the Secretary to report on efforts by the Department of State and the United States Agency for International Development to ensure accountability for these violations.