The Multilateralist

Clinton: Calling Assad a war criminal doesn’t help

Clinton: Calling Assad a war criminal doesn’t help

I’ve speculated recently that the absence of serious discussion about referring Syria to the International Criminal Court–a step that would require a UN Security Council resolution–reflects more than just a gloomy realization that Russia and China would likely veto such an attempt. I think the Libya experience in some respects soured the Obama administration, and maybe other Western states, on ICC referrals in the midst of conflict. In comments before a Senate committee today, Hillary Clinton gave the strongest indication yet that the United States doesn’t see international justice as helpful in the Syrian context:

"Based on definitions of war criminal and crimes against humanity, there would be an argument to be made that he would fit into that category," Clinton told a Senate hearing on the State Department budget.

"People have been putting forth the argument," the chief US diplomat said.

"But I also think that from long experience that can complicate a resolution of a difficult, complex situation because it limits options to persuade leaders perhaps to step down from power," Clinton said.

This is a remarkably broad statement that flies in the face of a lot of American rhetoric (though not necessarily American practice) regarding international justice. I’d expect that Clinton will get some serious pushback from the human rights community–and that she may feel compelled to walk back her statement.