As diplomatic talks on the future of Syria began in Switzerland Wednesday, a Syrian opposition group appealed to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against President Bashar Assad, presenting what it said was evidence of alleged war crimes.
Haitham Al-Maleh, head of the Syrian National Coalition’s legal committee and a participant at the Geneva II talks held in Montreux, Switzerland, told the opposition website Zaman Al-Wasl that his organization has prepared a detailed document of the Assad regime’s “crimes against the Syrian people” over the past year. Maleh said that he is responsible for the appeal.
Only states are eligible to appear before the ICJ, the principle judicial organ of the United Nations set up to settle disputes between states. According to its website, “the Court has no jurisdiction to deal with applications from individuals, non-governmental organizations, corporations or any other private entity.”
It is possible that Al-Maleh was actually referring to the International Criminal Court (ICC), another Hague-based tribunal established under the Rome Statute in 1998 to try individuals accused of genocide and crimes against humanity. The ICC can initiate an investigation if evidence of war crimes evidence is brought before it.
The number of casualties in Syria’s civil war, which began as a nonviolent popular protest in March 2011, is currently estimated at 130,000.
Talks in Switzerland were off to a shaky start Wednesday, with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem and US Secretary of State John Kerry sparring over the prospect of President Assad remaining in power. Kerry said Wednesday at the conference that Assad has lost his legitimacy to lead after an “appalling assault” on his people and cannot regain that legitimacy.
Moallem retorted that the Syrian people alone will determine whether or not Assad will be president, later clashing with UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon over the length of his speech.
Meanwhile, three prominent international war-crimes experts said they had received a huge cache of photographs documenting the killing of some 11,000 detainees by Syrian authorities.
David Crane, one of the three experts, told The Associated Press that the cache provides strong evidence for charging President Bashar Assad and others for crimes against humanity. “But what happens next will be a political and diplomatic decision,” he added.
In the 55,000 digital images, smuggled out by an alleged defector from Syria’s military police, the victims’ bodies showed signs of torture, including ligature marks around the neck and marks of beatings, while others show extreme emaciation suggestive of starvation.
The report — which was commissioned by the Qatar government, one of the countries that are deeply involved in the Syrian conflict and a major backer of the opposition — could not be independently confirmed.
Syria’s Justice Ministry called the report a “gathering of images of unidentified people, some of whom have turned out to be foreigners of different nationalities who were killed while attacking military checkpoints and civilian establishments.” It added that others were civilians and military personnel who were killed under torture by “terrorist groups allegedly for supporting the state.”
The ministry said that the report has been revealed on the eve of the peace conference in a bid to “undermine the current efforts that aim to bring peace to Syria and end the international terrorism inside it.