ICC (International Criminal Court) Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo said on August 19 that because Syria has not accepted the jurisdiction of the Court, the ICC lacks the authority to investigate and prosecute those responsible for a violent government crackdown on the popular uprising.

Three days later (August 22), UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay announced that the fact-finding mission dispatched to Syria had found a scale of abuses potentially amounting to crimes against humanity and urged the UN Security Council to refer the case of Syria to the ICC and give it the necessary jurisdiction to prosecute.

The fact-finding mission documented the period of March 15th to July 15th, and found “a pattern of widespread and systematic human rights violations by Syrian security and military forces, including murder, enforced disappearances, torture, deprivation of liberty and persecution.” Pillay said the scale of these acts “may amount to crimes against humanity,” which do fall under the jurisdiction of the ICC.

Despite the fact that Syria has not ratified the Rome Statute that created the ICC and is therefore not subject to its powers of investigation and prosecution, the UN Security Council can invoke its exceptional powers (Chapter VII) to grant the ICC jurisdiction in a case like Syria on the grounds that it amounts to a threat to international peace and security.

The fact-finding report is admittedly one-sided, as the Bashar al-Assad government has repeatedly refused requests to cooperate.  It has admitted that 1,900 persons died in the protests but insists that this figure includes 350 members of the security forces fighting armed criminal gangs.

The report, however, put the death toll since mid-March at more than 2,350 and said that security forces had “resorted to an apparent ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy”  It said snipers targeted ambulances and bystanders who were trying to help the wounded.

“Let me conclude by emphasizing the importance of holding perpetrators of crimes against humanity accountable,” Pillay told the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council.