Press Release

June 18, 2018
Cardin, Rubio Syria War Crimes Bill Passes Senate
Legislation passed as part of NDAA seeks accountability for Assad's war crimes; Senators urge NDAA conferees to prioritize bill

WASHINGTON – The United States Senate passed legislation Monday to empower the U.S. government to ensure investigation of and accountability for war crimes and other mass atrocities committed in the Syrian civil war that began more than seven years ago.

The legislation was co-authored by U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), both senior members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“The international community must hold Bashar al-Assad accountable for his gross violations of international human rights law, given his role in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent Syrians and the displacement of millions more,” Senator Cardin said. “The United States must lead by example in protecting human rights, and these tools will help us better do that. I urge my colleagues in the NDAA conference committee to ensure this amendment is included in the final legislation. We may not be able to undo the devastation Assad has unleashed on his own people, but we can work to hold him accountable and deter others from acting in a similarly monstrous way.”

“For over seven years, Bashar al-Assad and his regime have committed horrific war crimes and crimes against humanity against the Syrian people, including women and children,” Senator Rubio said. “As the NDAA heads to conference, America has an opportunity to send a clear message to human rights abusers around the globe. I urge my colleagues to ensure this important provision is included in the final legislation so that those responsible for the repeated use of chemical weapons and other atrocities against the Syrian people are held accountable.”

In June of 2017, the Committee passed S. 905, the Syria War Crimes Accountability Act, but it had been delayed on the Senate floor for the last year. The bill was added as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act which passed the Senate today.

The amendment:

  • Requires the Secretary of State to submit a report on war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in Syria to the appropriate congressional committees.
    • The report requires e description and assessment by the Department of State and other appropriate agencies of programs that the United States Government has undertaken to ensure accountability for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide perpetrated against the people of Syria, including programs to train investigators; promote transitional justice; document, collect, preserve, and protect evidence; and assess the influence of accountability measures on efforts to reach a negotiated settlement.
    • Directs State to complete a study of the feasibility and desirability of potential transitional justice mechanism for Syria (including a hybrid tribunal). In addition, the report should include recommendations on which transitional justice mechanism the United States Government should support, why, and how.
    • Authorizes technical assistance for entities collecting, documenting, and protecting evidence of Syrian war crimes, conducting criminal investigations and protecting witnesses), and requires biannual briefings
    • Authorizes assistance—after consultation with Congress to support the creation and operation of transitional justice mechanisms, including a potential hybrid tribunal.
    • Directs the State Department’s Rewards for Justice Program to target suspected perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in Syria.
    • Directs the State Department and the US Mission to the UN to advocate for the annual renewal by the UN Human Rights Commission of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria.