Sunday, September 16, 2012

Syria: The Rule of Law and Courts in Exile

On Friday I paid a visit to the Supreme Courts of Justice in Westminster. It has been a while since I last put down my law books, and for a moment it felt as if I had been transported back to university. It feels like a lifetime ago now, even though it was only three short years ago. Back then, the idea of a Supreme Court was treated with great deference by the faculty. It marked the clearest distinction yet between the judiciary and the legislature in the country, and marked a great step forward for the separation of powers.

Walking down to the exhibition hall and cafe, I spotted one of the plaques describing how the building had been used by the governments of four countries during the Second World War, to try those of their nationals and armed forces that had committed any manner of crimes in accordance with the laws of their land. These courts were in exile because their countries were occupied by the Nazis but evidently the rule of law was considered far too important to be held up by such a detail. It then occurred to me that nobody has yet called for the creation of a Syrian court in exile to try Syrian nationals accused of crimes both within the country and abroad.

The atrocities in Syria are rising, and what we hear of is undoubtedly only a fraction of the whole picture. I hold Assad's regime in utter contempt, but I can't deny that those who fight his evil cover a very wide spectrum, and not all of them hold the interests of the Syrian people dear. A question presents itself to all Syrians, but especially to those who are now on the very front line in this revolution, both politically and militarily, where is the rule of law? Why can we not have courts to try both members of the regime that have been captured, as well as members of the FSA, the SNA or any other Syrian national who has broken the law and committed a crime?

The sham trial and subsequent execution of members of the Barri clan in Aleppo a few months ago shocked many people, including myself. Was this what Syrians could look forward to after over forty years of kangaroo courts? There is an urgent and immediate need for a credible, sober, and independent body of Syrian judges and lawyers to put together such a court, with not only the powers to refer cases to the International Criminal Court, but also to try cases of treason, human rights abuse and criminality on their own if need be. The court must be created out of the necessity that Syria as a state is now defunct, and its judicial system severely compromised. This court should then become the nucleus of a future supreme court for the country.

Of course this is all a pipe dream. A court in exile requires that Syrians also have a government in exile, and a government in exile requires credible political figures that actually know something about politics and do not squabble over funding and time in front of the camera. The question then is, where do we get credible political figures? The obvious answer is, from average Syrians. More Syrians need to write, network and organize. They need to make their voices heard not only against Assad's criminality, but in all aspects relating to the future of their country. Key amongst their concerns should be the concept of rule of law. If Syrians are to take their place amongst the people of the world, they must, as a free people, create and live under their own laws. These laws must adhere to the highest standards of reason and common sense. When they do not, we become a banana republic, a kingdom of Assad and just another Middle Eastern country to be exploited. It is therefore imperative that law, and not an ideology or religion, become the cornerstone of a new Syrian republic. A functioning and independent Syrian court in exile is a step in that direction.

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