Doha, Qatar – Seeking to find ways to hold individuals and countries accountable for war crimes and human rights violations around the world, speakers at a conference in the Qatari capital have recommended the establishment of an international mechanism to combat impunity and the disregard of international law by powerful nations.
The problem is particularly acute in the Arab world, where devastating atrocities during civil wars and widespread human rights abuses are committed by regimes and armed groups alike, the speakers said on Monday.
A lack of regional legislation and mechanisms to deter such violations bring the problems to crisis levels, with hundreds of thousands killed in Syria, Yemen going through the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and Libya witnessing a burgeoning conflict.
The international conference on “national, regional, and international mechanisms to combat impunity and ensure accountability under international law” was sponsored by Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee (NHRC).
The NHRC chief, Ali bin Samikh al-Marri, noted the lack of a proper criminal justice system in the Arab world to deal with war crimes and rights abuses, and said the road to addressing violations must come through “fostering national, regional and international criminal justice mechanisms”.
But critics argue the international community and the UN organisations have “failed” to act against those who committed war crimes and human rights violations in the region.
“The people of Syria are very frustrated with the lack of action by the international community to hold the regime of President Bashar al-Assad accountable for its war crimes against the Syrian people,” said Fadel Abdul Ghani of the Syrian Network for Human Rights.
The Syrian government stands accused of committing chemical attacks against civilians and other war crimes during eight years of war.
Abdul Ghani said the international community has failed and that “Syria is a huge example of this failure”.
Qatari lawyer Abdullah Taher raised concern the United States and other world powers are not held accountable for their misdeeds in the Arab world and elsewhere.
Only developing countries and poor ones are “held to account by the international organisations”, he said.
“We want solutions for holding those responsible for committing war crimes in the region held to account.”
On April 12, the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague turned down a request by its chief prosecutor to open a war crimes probe in Afghanistan, which could have looked into the possible role of US forces in wrongdoing, saying it “would not serve the interests of justice”.
“I strongly doubt that the judges would have adopted such an unexpected and deeply flawed interpretation of the ‘interests of justice’ had the US not so aggressively pressured the court to reject the Afghanistan investigation,” said Kevin Jon Heller, a professor of international law at the Australia National University and the University of Amsterdam.
The ICC decision reinforced a perception in Arab nations and developing countries that such international organisations cannot make independent decisions in the interest of justice, the participants said.
Heller said the ICC’s decision not to investigate the alleged US war crimes in Afghanistan will provide a “road map” to encourage other powerful states such as Russia to act with impunity and disregard international law.
As a result, Heller argued, the ICC will now likely only focus on investigating abuses committed by weak states, rebel groups or deposed heads of state.
“Those are the only crimes where the ICC can expect significant state cooperation,” said Heller.
“How could you fight impunity here when the world’s most powerful country, the US, sets the example to other countries that powerful states are above international law,” said Dawod Kuttab, a Jordanian writer and human rights activist.
Mona Rishmawi, the chief of the rule of law, equality and non-discrimination branch at the UN high commission for human rights, said there is a wide gulf between powerful Western nations that call for international law and justice while not necessarily adhering to it and Arab governments that violate their people’s human rights.
“Every state is looking after its own interests and not necessarily the interests of human rights or the rule of law,” she told Al Jazeera.
“We in the Arab world should listen to our people who are on the streets in Sudan, Algeria and elsewhere demanding dignity, justice and an end to corruption by the ruling regimes.”
The two-day conference concluded with a lengthy list of recommendations for nation states, civil society and national, international and regional mechanisms to help end impunity.
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