Fighting 13 Years of Impunity: Accountability Opportunities for United States Leadership in Responding to Mass Atrocities in Syria.

Washington, D.C. – Today, the Syria Accountability Working Group (SAWG), an initiative by Citizens for a Safe and Secure America (C4SSA) in partnership with the Public International Law & Policy Group (PILPG), released its critical report, titled “Fighting 13 Years of Impunity: Accountability Opportunities for United States Leadership in Responding to Mass Atrocities in Syria.”

The report highlights the relentless conflict that has plagued Syria for 13 years, resulting in systematic atrocities and immense human suffering at the hands of the Assad regime. With over 13 million Syrians displaced, half a million killed, and humanitarian conditions worsening, the international community faces a critical moment for accountability.

“Despite some measures taken, including political condemnation, sanctions, and domestic trials in Europe, comprehensive accountability remains elusive for the vast majority of Syrian perpetrators, particularly high-level offenders,” the report states. The atrocities documented include torture, chemical weapon use, and starvation, tactics primarily attributed to the Assad regime.

The report calls for decisive action at the domestic and international level. It stresses the importance of addressing the crimes committed by the Assad regime to uphold international norms and provide justice for victims. The report’s recommendations include:

• International tribunal for war crimes, use of chemical weapons, and/or other atrocities in Syria: U.S. policy makers should support the creation of an Exceptional Chemical Weapons Tribunal (“ECWT”) and share information that they have on file, including through non-proliferation departments.

• Fact finding and evidence gathering mechanisms: The U.S. should continue to support such bodies by: (a) supporting the extension of the COI’s mandate in July 2024; (b) lending robust U.S. and partner cooperation to these bodies, including through effective information and evidence sharing; and (c) continuing to finance these mechanisms, as it has done with the IIIM and support the Syrian Network for Human Rights SNHR, and to include the IIMP.

Expand intelligence cooperation and sharing: The U.S. and partner nations should expand sharing of intelligence about alleged perpetrators of atrocities so that countries with extra-territorial jurisdiction laws are able to apprehend and bring them to justice when they cross into their territory. Better coordination can lead to cross-border apprehensions and prosecutions.

• Push for accountability for crimes committed against U.S. citizens: U.S. authorities are presently investigating the tragic killing of a U.S. citizen, Layla Shweikani, 26, an aid worker who was reportedly executed by Syrian intelligence guards following a false confession to crimes she did not commit, which was given as a result of extensive torture at the hands of the Assad regime. While not an international investigation, it represents a small yet important step toward accountability for some of the regime’s crimes. The U.S. Justice Department should redouble its efforts to expedite and intensify this investigation and other similar investigations, such as the case of Majd Kamalmaz, to ensure justice for the perpetrators of these hideous crimes.

• Support victim rehabilitation, justice, and reparation efforts: In 2023, Lafarge S.A., a global building materials manufacturer, and its Syrian subsidiary pleaded guilty in a U.S. court for material support for terrorism by entering into a revenue-sharing agreement with ISIS in Syria. The guilty plea resulted in $778 million in fines and forfeiture. To the extent appropriate, policy makers should direct these funds to support Syrian survivors of all atrocities committed in Syria.

• Extra-territorial jurisdiction: Extra-territorial jurisdiction prosecutions remain crucial avenues for individual accountability. The U.S. should support countries with forward leaning extra-territorial jurisdiction laws through intelligence and evidence sharing and prosecutorial expertise to promote accountability. With the adoption of the U.S. Justice for Victims of War Crimes Act, the U.S. has begun to advance such initiatives domestically in the U.S., which should be developed and utilized as appropriate.

• International Court of Justice and other international fora: In the absence of comprehensive individual accountability for atrocities in Syria, proceedings against Syria in the International Court of Justice initiated by The Netherlands and Canada under the UN Convention Against Torture represent a key avenue to establish truthful narratives and vindicate those victims, survivors, and their families of the Assad regime’s atrocities. The Netherlands and Canada have also put a marker on chemical weapons as a form of torture through their ICJ-based litigation against Syria. The U.S. should share all relevant information and evidence to support the case. In addition, the ICC and other international fora should be explored as additional means of bringing perpetrators to justice.

• Targeted sanctions: Sanctions remain as an essential tool to combat the Assad regime’s ability to continue its atrocities, cement control over the population, and re-integrate itself within the region.

Fighting 13 Years of Impunity” serves as a crucial tool for policymakers, offering actionable insights and strategies to restore justice and accountability in Syria. The report underscores the need for U.S. leadership in confronting these egregious violations and preventing further atrocities.