ICC eyeing foreign fighters in Syria, Iraq


The Hague (Netherlands)—The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Tuesday put foreigners fighting with Islamic State jihadists on notice that she was seeking ways of bringing to justice those behind crimes in Syria and Iraq.
Neither Syria or Iraq have joined the tribunal, but chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told AFP her office had jurisdiction over crimes committed in either country by citizens of the 124 nations which have signed up to court.
“We definitely have jurisdiction over those nationals,” Bensouda told AFP, in an interview in the ICC’s new headquarters on the outskirts of The Hague.
But she also revealed that apart from a handful of exceptions most foreign fighters “are not really at the top echelons of the ISIL structure,” and that the “primary responsibility” for prosecuting them lay first with their national courts.
She was speaking a day after meeting with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who assured her France was “ready to cooperate” with the court and action could be “launched” if it concerns “nationals who are engaged in the war in Syria alongside Daesh,” using another name for the Islamic State group.
France has been among countries upping the pressure at the UN Security Council to mandate the ICC to investigate war crimes committed by all sides in the five-year civil war in Syria.
The United States on Monday named a dozen Syrian generals and officers accused of leading attacks on civilian targets and running torture prisons, warning they will one day face justice.
“Those behind such attacks must know that we in the international community are watching their actions, documenting their abuses and one day they will be held accountable,” said US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power.
But so far any attempts to agree to a resolution giving the ICC powers to investigate crimes in Syria have been vetoed by Russia, the main ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and China.
Set up in 2002, the tribunal based in The Hague is meant as a court of last resort to prosecute the world’s worst crimes when national governments are unwilling or unable.—AFP