My Head Asplode

Batten down the hatches and hunker down in your place of safety, because the end times are upon us.

Here’s the proof:

Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ) in the Washington Post, advocating for the establishment of a Syria War Crimes Tribunal. (The Bible is pretty clear that Republican Congresspersons proposing the creation of new international institutions is a sign of the apocalypse, right?)

Rep. Smith, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s human rights panel, believes that rather than approving a limited strike, or an International Criminal Court referral, or any of the other options currently on the table, the United Nations Security Council should create a brand spanking new war crimes tribunal, specifically tasked with bringing the perpetrators of atrocities in Syria to justice.

As evidence that this is a feasible proposition, he cites the Security Council votes to create the ICTY in 1993 (unanimous) and the ICTR in 1994 (China abstained).

Here’s the thing, though, Congressman: You know what didn’t exist in 1993 and 1994, when the Security Council decided to establish those ad hoc bodies? I’ll give you a hint: It rhymes with Shminternational Shriminal Shourt.

Yes, that’s right, it’s the ICC! And it is, in fact, a permanent international body set up to do EXACTLY the thing you would like your Syria War Crimes Tribunal to do. Isn’t that exciting?

And do you know why the ICC was set up? It was so that every (depressingly frequent) time some jackass dictator or rebel leader decides to mow down peaceful protestors, massacre villagers, or engage in a campaign of mass rape, the Security Council doesn’t have to go to the trouble and expense of creating a new court.

And that expense is not minimal. The ICTY, which you seem to be such a fan of, currently clocks in at $2.3 billion. The ICTR: $1.7 billion. Even the hybrid courts, which save costs by utilizing the judicial systems of the country where the crimes occurred, have already racked up price tags of over $200 million (Special Court for Sierra Leone, in place since 2002) and $350 million (Khmer Rouge Tribunal operating since 2006). And frankly, I just don’t see President Assad loaning his pet judges out to the effort to punish him. Do you?

Meanwhile, the costs to establish the ICC have already been paid. It’s there, lurking just outside of The Hague, waiting for someone to request that it investigate the command structure of the Syrian Armed Forces. All you have to do is ask.

Or rather: All you have to do is persuade Russia and China not to veto a referral. But you’d have that issue with your harebrained “chuck a new tribunal at the problem” scheme too. So yeah, maybe go back to the drawing board with this one.


*Facts and figures courtesy of the Leitner Center’s “International Criminal Tribunals: A Visual Overview.”

Kate Cronin-Furman


  1. Smith acknowledges the ICC, but claims its conviction rate is too slow (which is an odd bone to pick, especially since the ICTR and ICTY and still going strong 20 years later). I think the real agenda here is to create a mechanism the U.S. can control and dictates the terms of.

  2. Leave it to you to make me laugh about a referral to the Shminternational Shriminal Shourt. I never thought I’d see the day. Thanks for making a horrible situation (Republicans–eek!) somewhat amusing.

  3. Looks like PILPG are running with this…..
    “A blue ribbon panel of former international tribunal chief prosecutors, international judges, and leading experts has prepared a Draft Statute for a Syrian Extraordinary Tribunal to Prosecute Atrocity Crimes. It’s being called the “Chautauqua Blueprint” because it was finalized on the margins of a recent conference of several of the chief prosecutors of the various international criminal tribunals at the Chautauqua Institution. The initiative was organized by Case Western Reserve Law Professor Michael Scharf, who is Managing Director of the Public International Law & Policy Group (PILPG); and David Crane, former Chief Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, who is a member of PILPG’s Board.”

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