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2016 | Syria, J’Accuse! Syrian State Responsibility for War Crimes, by B. Van Schaack

After an introduction on the 'elusive' establishment of individual criminal responsibility, this article presents the options for state responsibility and discusses the case filed, in the USA, after the death of the journalist Marie Colvin during the siege of Homs in 2012.

The first stated option concerns individual complaints brought by victims against state parties before Treaty bodies. Syria has ratified many human rights treaties, nevertheless this remains 'arguably [the] least robust' route to state responsibility, since many Treaty body based complaint mechanisms have not enter into force or need further declarations. For instance, without Syria's consent the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment of Punishment can only comment upon shadow reports. 

Another possibility resides in the exercise of an 'advisory jurisdiction' by the International Court of Justice in the case of the denunciation, by another sovereign state, of human rights violations. Such inter-states allegations are not common practice, but proceedings by Belgium against Senegal might indicate coming changes. The General Assembly could also request an advisory opinion on state responsibility for Syria's breaches of international law, as it did in 2003 with regards to Israel's construction of the wall in the West Bank.

Finally, under certain conditions and depending on state immunity restrictions, national courts could judge certain claims.

In a second time the Colvin v Syria case is further examined. In the USA, the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) clarifies the foreign sovereign immunity and represents the sole basis on which US courts may establish jurisdiction over foreign sovereigns. Nevertheless a notable exception to state immunity is present in the FSIA in case of proceedings against national of 'State sponsors of terrorism', Syria being designated as such. 'The complaint seeks to hold Syria responsible for the extrajudicial killing of Colvin', alleging that the government has deliberately targeted the media centre in order to silence journalists, including Marie Colvin, 'critical of the regime' or/and 'exposing the commission of war crimes by state actors'.