Arria-formula meeting on Detention in Syria and the "Caesar" Report
Tomorrow morning (15 April), Council members will convene for an “Arria-formula” meeting organised by France with a focus on detention of Syrians by the Syrian regime, human right violations committed during detention in Syria and justice for crimes committed in Syria. This meeting follows circulation by France of the “Report into the Credibility of Certain Evidence with regard to Torture and Execution of Persons Incarcerated by the Current Syrian Regime” (codenamed the “Caesar” Report) as a document of the Security Council (S/2014/244) on 2 April. The report had been previously presented to member states at an event in mid-March organised by Qatar and several other member states. (Qatar also funded the report.)
The report was prepared by an inquiry team consisting of legal, forensic and medical experts, chaired by Sir Desmond De Silva, former Chief Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone. The inquiry team evaluated and confirmed the authenticity of photographs provided by a former member of the Syrian military police—“Caesar”—that allegedly document widespread torture and executions in Syrian prisons. The photos suggest that at least 11,000 prisoners have been tortured and executed while in detention. Two members of the inquiry team have been invited to brief Council members -Professor David M. Crane, first Chief Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, who took part in the preparation of the Caesar report as a legal expert; and Dr. Stuart J. Hamilton, a forensic pathologist on the UK Home Office Register.
Tuesday’s Arria is likely to play into the Council’s consideration of a possible referral of the situation to the ICC. On 8 April, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay briefed Council members, reiterating previous statements that there was “massive evidence” that war crimes and crimes against humanity had been committed and indicated responsibility at the highest level and once again called for a referral to the ICC. She added that the government was responsible for most violations and that her office could identify the perpetrators in the case of a referral. Earlier today, issuing a paper based on interviews conducted by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) with individuals who had been detained in Syria, Pillay condemned the use of torture in detention facilities by both Syrian government forces and armed opposition groups. The OHCHR document gives examples of torture and ill-treatment against individuals in government facilities as well as torture by some armed groups.
France has organised tomorrow’s Arria as part of what appears to be a wider strategy to bring accountability for human rights violations to the fore of Council action that included the 8 April invitation to Pillay to brief Council members. (During that briefing Pillay also covered the Central African Republic, Libya, Mali and South Sudan.) France, along with several other Council members—Argentina, Australia, Chile, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Nigeria, South Korea and the UK—have voiced support for an ICC referral. However, with respect to Syria, the Council has not been able to agree to anything beyond a general call for those responsible for violations of international humanitarian law and human rights to be brought to justice.
Russia has characterised the idea of an ICC referral as poorly-timed and counterproductive, in that it may hinder progress on the already stalled Geneva negotiations. China, too, is unlikely to be supportive of any move to refer Syria to the ICC. Regarding the Caesar report, Russia has voiced concerns that the report is one-sided and that, more generally, the issue of human rights is being politicised in the Council and used to pressure only the government, while there is insufficient emphasis on accountability for atrocities committed by other actors. Russia also stresses that chemical weapons is the most pressing issue and that more attention ought to be paid to the government’s efforts to destroy chemical weapons, as well as the challenges the government faces on that track. Other members, however, are more skeptical about the progress being made on the chemical weapons front. It is unclear whether Russia will attend the Arria meeting tomorrow.
Despite an obvious lack of consensus within the Council on the matter, Council members are aware that France has a resolution in mind on the referral of the situation in Syria to the ICC and may present a draft to Council members, though no formal document has been circulated yet.
Looking ahead, on 30 April Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos is expected to provide the second monthly report on the implementation of resolution 2139 on humanitarian access. Several Council members were frustrated with the lack of appreciably improved access reported by Amos on 28 March and some are speculating that if Amos’ April briefing reports similarly limited progress this could prompt a move toward a vote on a draft resolution imposing measures for non-compliance on the humanitarian track.