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Syrian War Crimes Accountability Bill Introduced

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), and Todd Young (R-Ind.) introduced the Syrian War Crimes Accountability Act Friday to instruct the Secretary of State to report on war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in Syria, as well as to authorize assistance for investigations and other credible transitional justice efforts, including a potential hybrid tribunal, to hold Assad and his regime accountable for their heinous acts.

The Syrian civil war has lasted for six years and hundreds of thousands of Syrians have been killed, many at the hands of dictator Bashar al-Assad and his regime. Millions more have fled the country as refugees.

“The United States must lead the international community in holding Assad accountable for his war crimes and his brutal victimization of the Syrian people over the last six years,” said Senator Cardin, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “This bill will bolster America’s commitment to ensuring that justice is ultimately served for the impunity with which Assad and his regime have committed crimes against humanity, most recently evidenced by this week’s barbaric use of chemical weapons against innocent men, women and children.”

“For more than six years, Bashar al-Assad has been committing horrific war crimes against the Syrian people, including women and children. This bill is a first step towards ensuring accountability for the human rights violations inflicted against innocent civilians in Syria,” said Senator Rubio, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on human rights. “We must bring to justice those responsible for the Syrian regime’s barbaric attacks and repeated use of chemical weapons.”

"Time and again Bashar al-Assad has demonstrated that he is a brutal dictator with no regard for human life,” said Senator Shaheen, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the subcommittee on human rights. “This bill is an important step to ensure that Assad and his allies are held accountable for their acts of barbarism. Over the last six years, Assad has committed crimes against humanity, torturing and killing women, children, and families. The people of Syria deserve justice.”

"Bashar al-Assad continues to demonstrate that he is a brutal dictator who belongs behind bars," said Senator Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "The U.S. should contribute to a legitimate process that will pursue accountability for Assad and all those guilty of war crimes in Syria.”

“Bashar al-Assad is a ruthless dictator who has no regard for human life, and no remorse for the horrific attacks he continues to perpetrate against his own citizens. Given the gravity of the deteriorating situation in Syria, the United States needs to play a leading role in a coordinated international response that comes with a clearly articulated strategy that our partners in the Middle East and around the world can support,” said Senator Menendez, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “This bipartisan legislation is another step forward to produce that well-crafted strategy that serves American national security interests and responds to a threat against our common humanity and the international order.”

“Assad's chemical attacks this week are just the latest atrocity he has perpetrated against the Syrian people, and this bill will help ensure that the Assad regime is held accountable for its crimes against humanity,” said Senator Young, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Justice and American national security interests demand that we not sit idly by when innocent men, women, and children are gassed, tortured, and massacred.”

A section-by-section summary of the bill follows:

Sec. 2. Findings

This section includes a number of Congressional findings regarding:

  • The magnitude of how many people are impacted by the conflict in Syria.
  • The commitment to international human rights laws and holding perpetrators of violations accountable.
  • The heinous acts committed by the Syrian government, pro-government forces, and ISIS, such as genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

Sec. 3. Sense of Congress

This section condemns the ongoing violence and human rights violations carried out by the Syrian government, pro-government forces and violent extremist groups. In addition, this section urges all parties to immediately put an end to all forms of violence and cease all violations of international humanitarian law and violations and abuses of human rights. The section also calls on the President to support efforts to ensure accountability for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide committed during the conflict.

Sec. 4. Definitions

This section defines terms used in the bill, including: genocide, war crime, hybrid tribunal, and transitional justice.

Sec. 5. Report on Accountability for War Crimes, Crimes Against Humanity, and Genocide in Syria

This section requires the Secretary of State to submit a report on war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in Syria to the appropriate congressional committees.

Subsection 5(b) mandates the following to be included in the report:

  • A description of alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide perpetrated during the civil war in Syria; and
  • A 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.

Sec. 6. Transitional Justice Study

This section directs the Secretary of State after consultation with other appropriate federal agencies 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.

Sec. 7. Technical Assistance Authorized

This section authorizes support for entities performing various functions (such as identifying suspected perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide; collecting, documenting, and protecting evidence of their crimes; conducting criminal investigations; and protecting witnesses) and requires biannual briefings on such support. The section also authorizes assistance—after consultation with Congress and based on the study required under Section 6-- to support the creation and operation of transitional justice mechanisms, including a potential hybrid tribunal.

Sec. 8. State Department Rewards for Justice Program

This section specifically directs the State Department’s Rewards for Justice Program to target suspected perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in Syria.

Sec. 9. Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic

This section 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.