[JURIST] Syrian and international human rights groups on Monday urged the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] to investigate the hundreds of civilian deaths during protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [Al Jazeera profile]. The ICC prosecutor’s office indicated it could not investigate the killings [Reuters report] because it can prosecute only those crimes committed by nationals of ICC member states. Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] also called [press release] on the UN Security Council [official website] to refer the Syria killings to the ICC. AI’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Philip Luther, expressed his dissatisfaction with the UN Security Council:
As the death toll in Syria reaches staggering new heights, it is imperative that the UN Security Council—which has so far been silent on this issue—votes to condemn the killings. … It must also take decisive action and refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. Those responsible for the brutal crackdown of pro-reform protesters must no longer be allowed to get away with murder.
Unless the UN Security Council refers the matter to the court, the ICC does not have jurisdiction in Syria because Damascus is not a party to the 2002 Rome Statute [text, PDF] that established the court.
There has been a major struggle to put an end to Syrian violence since the protests began earlier this year. The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website], in an emergency special session in April, publicly condemned [text, PDF; JURIST report] the violence used by Syrian authorities against peaceful protesters. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] called for Syria to immediately halt the killings [JURIST report] and violence against civilian protesters in response to the fatal shootings of peaceful anti-government protesters. Also in April, al-Assad ended [JURIST report] the country’s 48-year-old state of emergency, but protests have continued. Earlier in the same month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] reported [text] that Syrian security forces have stopped medical personnel [JURIST report], sometimes violently, from attending to injured protesters. A spokesperson for the group called the practice “both inhumane and illegal.” Pillay urged the Syrian government [JURIST report] in March to ensure protesters’ rights to peaceful expression and to work toward addressing their concerns instead of responding with violence. As demonstrations continued throughout the country in March, the government freed 260 political detainees [AFP report] in an overture to the protesters.