Naming Names in Syria

NEW YORK – Human rights reports make for depressing reading. Filled with accounts of cruelty, they can inspire despair for the human condition. But while I have read many such reports over the years, I cannot recall one as packed with horror as the one recently published by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic.

The commission, established in 2011 by the United Nations Human Rights Council, was denied access to Syria; it based its findings on 415 interviews, supplemented by photographs, video recordings, satellite images, and medical records. The crimes it documents include severe harm to civilians by Russian airstrikes in support of the Syrian government, the “targeting of hospitals, medical personnel, and transport,” and “continued, deliberate, and indiscriminate attacks on schools.”

The authors also found that the Islamic State had destroyed Syrian cultural heritage sites and sexually enslaved thousands of Yazidi women and girls, and that the Syrian government and its Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, had carried out systematic attacks on Sunnis, the country’s largest religious community, and used sieges to starve civilians.

This is the commission’s 11th report, and, as is customary, it concludes with a long list of recommendations, which, unfortunately, are unlikely to be implemented any time soon. One proposal, however, is worth highlighting. The commission calls for “referring the situation to justice, possibly to the International Criminal Court or an ad hoc tribunal, bearing in mind that, in the context of the Syrian Arab Republic, only the [UN] Security Council is competent to refer the situation.”