Refugees in the Dshibrin borough of Aleppo following its recapture by government forces in late 2016. Syria, March 5, 2017 (Khalil Hamlo/DPA/Associated Press)

Syria’s protracted crisis has been further complicated by the deeper involvement of United States and Israeli forces this week. Despite parallel peace talks being pursued in Geneva and Astana, the conflict appears destined to go on for some time, with the likelihood of crimes being committed under international law also continuing. With the International Criminal Court (ICC) essentially powerless to investigate such offenses at present, could a new mechanism at least preserve the evidence of abuses for future justice processes?

In December last year, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution to establish the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to assist and coordinate the prosecution of serious crimes in Syria. The need for such a mechanism seems clear, with the ICC prevented from intervening in the country, which is not a member state and hasn’t accepted its jurisdiction. Russia and China also vetoed a UN Security Council resolution in 2014 which would have given ICC prosecutors a mandate to investigate there. Proposals for other initiatives, such as the creation of a special tribunal similar to the ones that followed the genocide in Rwanda and the wars in the former Yugoslavia, have also failed to get off the ground.

Speaking at an event in support of the new mechanism earlier this month, Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders suggested the current impasse wouldn’t be resolved any time soon. “A political solution still eludes Syria, and accountability is out of reach for now,” Koenders said. Read more