Can we trust UN investigator to do the Syrian people justice?

American Herald Tribune | Kate Harveston: Since March 2011, primarily in reaction to the Arab Spring earlier that year, the people of Syria have been suffering. A brutal and deadly conflict arose between the Syrian Government, led by President Bashar al-Assad, and the Free Syrian Army which has trapped the people of Syria in a cycle of death and destruction. Over 470,000 of them have died as result of this conflict, according to the humanitarian charity, I am Syria.

However, this is not the limit of the horrors that have been afflicted against the Syrian people for almost a decade. Numerous reports of war crimes have been made against every side involved in the conflict.

In response, the United Nations created an official taskforce to investigate these claims in December 2016. However, just how likely is this taskforce to come to actionable conclusions? Or will vested interest within the UN prevent any serious investigation?

What is the Taskforce?

Officially designated the ‘International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism,’ the taskforce set up by the UN is dedicated to ensuring “accountability for crimes involving violations of international law committed by Syria.” This will involve gathering evidence related to potential violations and attempting to ensure that criminal charges and convictions, in accordance with international law, can be made.

This wholly positive aim runs parallel with the career of the leading investigator, Catherine Marchi-Uhel. Marchi-Uhel has a lifetime of experience working as a judge and legal officer in International Courts and Tribunals. This includes the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, also dealing with alleged war crimes.

However, should we place our faith in this taskforce and investigator for getting justice for the Syrian people? Some are concerned about the many limitations that the UN will have in this investigation, and the historic record of UN investigators.

What Are the Limitations of the Taskforce?

There are many aspects of the investigation, and taskforce itself, that led some to doubt the potential success that the many victims of the conflict in Syria deserve.

The most pressing issue with the investigation is actually a logistical one. The taskforce has stated that its budget requires $13 million per annum to operate as intended. However, various UN member states have pledged to give less than half of this amount. Clearly, a heavy lack of financial backing by the UN will impact the chance of success for the taskforce, and subsequently minimize the chances of the Syrian people receiving justice for the alleged crimes committed against them.

Additionally, many suspect potential political problems resulting in the investigation being stemmed, particularly as a result of the influence of the UN Security Council. Two members of the council, Russia and the United States of America, are among those alleged to have committed war crimes in Syria.

These fears are worsened still by the USA not only failing to join the International Criminal Court, stopping any US citizen from being domestically charged for war crimes by the Court, but actively condemning any investigation into American actions during war. This increases the chance of American influence minimizing any potential recommendations or conclusions against American actions in the Syrian conflict.

The appointment of Catherine Marchi-Uhel is another potential cause of worry in the investigation. As a French citizen, and previous employee of the French judicial system, Marchi-Uhel is a potential source of bias in an investigation into the actions of countries including France. She may find herself pressured by the French Government to limit investigation into French actions, or simply avoid asking certain questions about the coalition’s involvement in war crimes.

How Has the UN and ICC Done in The Past?

United Nations Taskforces, and the International Criminal Court, have a heavily criticized and ineffective history of investigating alleged war crimes. Not only are these taskforces largely ineffective, both in cost and evidence gathered, but they are also commonly accused of bias.

The International Criminal Court has historically ignored the alleged war crimes of western countries, under pressure from prominent European and American states, in favor of targeting African offenders. This potential bias towards western powers, particularly the USA, leaves many worried that any investigation or charges will focus on blaming the actions of the Syrian people and their government.

Ignoring the many alleged crimes committed by the USA would be an affront to the prolonged suffering that the people of Syria have endured during this conflict. If the ICC ignores the crimes of Western countries in order to blame Syria and other Middle-Eastern countries, it amounts to a total abject failure of the taskforce’s investigation and supposed values of our society.

Overall, it is clear that the UN investigator and taskforce will need to be watched carefully. While there exists only some direct evidence to suggest bias and injustice in the investigation, there is certainly justification for a lack of trust that the Syrian people will receive justice for the appalling actions of all sides involved in the conflict.