Laying the Groundwork for Syrian War Crimes Trials

The Wall Street Journal’s Jess Bravin and Michael Crittenden have a fascinating report on the Obama administration’s efforts to utilize information provided by a Syrian defector, code-named “Caesar.” As luck would have it, Caesar is a former Syrian military-police photographer whose job included documenting thousands of corpses. Drawing on their interview with Ambassador Stephen Rapp, Bravin and Crittenden explain that “victims’ faces are being matched against photos in passport files and other official records to establish nationality.” For the purpose of setting up trials, they further explain that “the U.S. and its allies are focusing on possible crimes where individual countries already have jurisdiction—those involving their own nationals or dual citizens who may have been victims or perpetrators in Syria” (my emphasis added).

How viable are those forms of jurisdiction for war crimes trials? Check out Beth Van Schaack’s post which does a deep dive into the relevant international law issues. In June, Beth and I also posted our take on the reasons for establishing such trials sooner than later. Why not have the UN set it up? Check out Derek Jinks’s post. And, finally, Just Security now has a bevy of posts on universal jurisdiction, an alternative basis for such trials. 

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About the Author(s)

Ryan Goodman

Co-Editor-in-Chief of Just Security, Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Professor of Law at New York University School of Law, former Special Counsel to the General Counsel of the Department of Defense (2015-2016). You can follow him on Twitter @rgoodlaw.