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tv   Hearing on U.S.- Syria Policy  CSPAN  June 8, 2022 11:21am-12:00pm EDT

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powered a new reality. because at mediacom we are built to keep you ahead . >> supports c-span as a public service. along with these other television providers. giving awe front row seat -- row seat to democracy. >> live to the senate foreign relations committee for a hearing or u.s.-syria policy. we join this in progress . >> transferring egyptian natural gas via jordan. as you said through syrian pipelines. there is, as we understand it, there is no cash transfer of any kind to the syrian government. it would be in kind. and i would stress the lebanese people have about two hours of electricity today. it would be a matter of minutes of power provided. >> i don't have a lot of time left it's your belief, you alluded to our allies having done this in consultation with
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some of the regional allies, you don't think this sends mixed messages or any negative message to allies who are fighting against the assad regime and countries in the region who are concerned about isolating the assad regime and holding mr. assad accountable? >> senator, i think people are very clear who this is intended for. will i tell you the sing of jordan is one of the most concerned of our partners about the prospect of collapse in lebanon. and he would like to do whatever is possible to mitigate that prospect . >> thank you both . .a. >> thank you. a thaoupbg khaerpl menendez, thank you to our panel. both for your service and testimony. as we all know, russia's unprovoked attack on ukraine has garnered significant global attention, but it's critical we also sustain our focus on and engagement with syria, a country
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where russia's engagement exploitation, meddling, commission of human rights abuses have led to massive suffering and widespread displacement. more than 14 million people inside syria are in need of humanitarianian aid. nearly all lives under the poverty haoeupb. as chairman of the appropriations committee responsible for our humanitarian assistance i keep pushing for robust assistance, including for syrian refugees and those most vulnerable as this conflict grinds on into its 11th year. it's critical we do everything in our power to maintain humanitarian cross border access into northwestern syria and to continue pressing for other routes of humanitarian access. i am kaerpbd the prospect of a russian veto at the security council when the cross border mandate renewal comes up this july will lead to further suffering. mr. coons: russia -- senator coons: russia used its seat to weaken international resolve across a wide range of issues to
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spread disinformation. how are we working, if i might, assistant secretary, how are we working with other like-minded security council members to prevent a veto and counter russian influence within the council? >> thank you for that question, senator. it's an abiding plea occupation -- preoccupation for us in the department of state for our mission. and we are working all channels. i would just say that there are some pretty significant players in this space in terms of their channels with russia. one of them is turkey. turkey will be -- turkiye will be directly affected by the scale of humanitarian crisis unleashed by russia vetoing this border crossing. i know that the government is quite engaged in those discussions as are a number of others. as i have looked at this and as we are working together hand in hand with other partners outside the council and in, i think there is a very deep contkrepb
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sus -- consensus on this matter. russia will stand alone, completely alone f. it does go forward with this. really, this is a directly humanitarian matter. i'm not going to say whether i'm optimistic or pessimistic. i'm focused on getting the results we need. senator coons: one of the things i have been focused on is the food crisis resulting from russia's unprovoked and illegal attack on ukraine. the way in which the 400 million people who were fed by ukrainian agricultural products last year are now at risk of famine. something like 12.5 million syrians suffer from food insecurity according to the world food program. what's status of the food supply in syria? what actions is the administration taking to address the critical need to get access to the agricultural products of ukraine? how might we address both the cooking oil and food khortages brought about by russia's --
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food shortages brought about by russia's blockade of the ports? secretary leaf: i know there are efforts under way in a number of channels in our government to get to the heart of the problem which is the blockade of ukraine's ports. the targeting of course of ukraine's wheat and other supplies. you are absolutely right that syria is made all the more vulnerable by syria's population is made more vulnerable by putin's war on ukraine. so is lebanon next door. lebanon used to i am port something on the order of 80% of its needs from ukraine. and of course the port explosion blew to pieces all of the supplies. we are focusing our humanitarian assistance' raofr coy-ye -- recovery efforts in this place as part of a larger effort to
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identify how we can get to the most vulnerable populations. senator coons: one last question for both of you. how is russia repositioning as a result of the war in ukraine? to what extent are you seeing the likelihood of increased iranian involvement in syria as the russian security focus is the ongoing war in ukraine? >> tharpbg you, smart -- thank you, smart, for that question. we have seen no meaningful changes in russia's intervention in syria. or in its commitment to backing the assad regime and continued war against the syrian people in syria. with respect to iran, iran's ultimate objective in syria and the region have also not changed. iran remains committed to both pushing u.s. forces and u.s. -- united states out of the region and it continues its commitment to supporting a network of
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violent proxies and terrorists in terrorizing and destabilizing regional governments. our commitment to pushing back on these activities and supporting israel and inherent right to self-defense has not changed. senator coons: thank you. chairman phaepbz: -- chairman phepbz: senator cruz. senator cruz: secretary leaf, i want to begin by asking you questions about the administration's plan to route egyptian gas to hrebon from jordan and syria, and in the process using the energy infrastructure of the ukrainian controlled assad ream good morning, america. in january the united states ambassador to lebanon said lebanon didn't need to worry about american sanctions for this scheme and that the us us had conveyed assurances to that effect. i publicly stated at the time that that was exceptionally poor
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advice. that lebanon should absolutely worry about violating u.s. sanctions. and so should every other country involved in these schemes. i added that congress would strongly oppose the biden administration trying to enrich assad. and indeed we have seen and heard some of that opposition already today. congress, to say nothing of this committee, will ensure that united states sanctions are fully ensured -- enforced. the actions of this administration are endangering the american allies involved in these deals and exposing them to acute future sanctions risks. it's also worrying that the biden administration again has been deliberately vague about this middle east policy. administration officials sometimes say they'll provide letters, licenses, or waivers to exempt countries from sanctions on assad.
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other times they have said oddly enough that the sanctions passed by congress don't apply at all. so i'd like to ask you about that. last october undersecretary knoll kwrapbl said one scheme, quote, falls under the humanitarian cat gorery. no sanctions waiver would be required in this instance. earlier, the state department's energy envoy said -- had said that gas steals don't count as transactions at all. i'd like you to be specific. is it your understanding that the energy project to bring egyptian gas to lebanon via jordan and syria would be exempt from sanctions or would it require waivers and licenses to avoid sanctions exposure? secretary leaf: thank you, senator, for those questions. we have not seen the final details of these contracts. so i reserve judgment.
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we have made no decision. we have made no commitments of exemptions, waivers, or what have you. we'll look at the details of these contracts, treasury, state, will look at these details and make a finding then. what we have seen, what we have been privy to in terms of the arrangements that are under discussion would involve the world bank providing a two-year loan that would also be conditioned on far-reaching, extensive reform of the electricity sector. to put it on a sounder enduring footing. once the world bank looks at this, we would look at the details of the contract and make a judgment at that time. senator cruz: the public report's accurate, you have given assurances sanctions won't apply? secretary leaf: no, they are not accurate. what i am aware of we have given
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what i term preassurances that governments may engage in discussions about these arrangements. the final decision will be the final decision by the treasury, department of treasury. senator cruz: i will note that the final decision by treasury will not be the final decision. there will be successor administrations. and successor administrations i think it is quite likely that a future administration will immediately move to restore pressure on iran and its proxies and it's very likely to revoke any waivers or licenses granted. as a result the conduct of the biden administration is exposing our allies to a serious and acute risk of sanctions. secretary leaf: senator, these set of arrangements, came about because of the concern on the part of the governments of jordan and egypt. indeed a number of others. about the prospect for the state
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of lebanon to collapse. given the diminishing level of energy available, the resort to propaganda by hezbollah to bring in sanctioned iranian oil, oil that didn't go to the public, didn't go to the national electricity grid, just disappeared into the black market. so this is a way of transparently, the theory of the arrangement is that it will transparently provide that life sustaining, economic sustaining, economy sustaining energy to the public. otherwise the state and society itself is on the port of collapse. senator cruz: that may be the theory of the arrangement. it doesn't give the administration the ability to disregard binding and mandatory sanctions passed by congress. a final question, you mentioned hezbollah, and the united states has spent billions of dollars over the last two decades to build up the lebanese armed
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forces. are you aware the lebanese armed forces stopping hezbollah weapons convoys into lebanon, and how many times? secretary leaf: i'd have to look at that in detail and come back to you with an answer. senator cruz: is it concerning we are giving billions to an armed force that is is not in any meaningful way opposing hezbollah. secretary leaf: what i can say is the following about the lebanese armed forces. they are on the verge of being the only remaining national institution that has the capability to sustain the security and to mitigate some of the effects of lebanon's collapse. they are the one institution nationally that is trusted by the lebanese public. they are struggling to carry out their responsibilities. the last thing we want to see is the last collapse as well. chairman menendez: senator rich. senator rich: we do need to move
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to the next group. i'm not satisfied with the discussion we have had about the lack of sanctions. i have got some matters i want to pursue that. not totally unlike what senator cruz has been pursuing. but the answer that syria's going to be paid in kind in no way exemption us from sanctions. what i would like to do is i would like to propound some questions for the record, please, and ask that they commit to respond. chairman menendez: since you have just arrived in the nick of time, we'll recognize you. after this i'm just economicking a public announcement. we are moving to the next panel. if someone has not arrived here, they'll have to submit their questions for the record . >> thank you, mr. chairman. wednesday every committee is settled at 10:00.
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while you can be ubiquitous in some instances here, it's very difficult because of the distance you have to travel. i apologize, mr. chairman, and to the committee members. senator neal: the assad regime repeatedly broke the repbtry old taboo against the use of chemical weapons. we want to eliminate the surge of kweps which is all -- chemical weapons which is all the more threat that russia could use them in its illegal war in ukraine. in syria the organization for the prohibition of chemical weapons has not received certain requested information from syria and the employment of the opcw declaration assessment team has been delayed because of difficulties acquiring visas to enter syria. assistant secretary of state leaf, what is your department doing to work on getting an inspection team into syria to verify the elimination of
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syria's declared and nondeclared chemical weapons program? secretary leaf: thank you, senator, for that question. there is no doubt that the assad regime's retention of the capability of using these terrifying weapons against its own public is -- has to remain a top priority is a top priority. i will commit to you that i will put my own personal efforts to that end to clear the way for this team to get into syria and to do its work. senator neal: i think we have to put special -- senator markey: i think we have to put special emphasis on it because of complete uncertainty as to the sustainability of the russian incursion. desperation could breed actions that are otherwise unacceptable. deputy assistant secretary stroul, over 40,000 syrians have registered to fight on behalf of
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the russia in ukraine and deployment is now beginning s there anything the united states can do to prevent thousands and thousands of syrian mercenaries there successfully transiting to ukraine? secretary stroul: we have also seen the open source reporting about large numbers of syrians being relocated by russia to the ukraine theater of war. we have not seen large-scale movements like that on the ground. if there are smaller groups, ones and two, are fine. we have not seen in our intelligence assessments does not see large-scale movement. we are continuing to monitor that closely. senator markey: that 40,000 number has not translated in ukraine into operational troops-- secretary stroul: that's what i'm saying. it's important to take note of the massive amounts of disinformation and misinformation in the environment by russia, both in the syria theater and the
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ukraine theater. senator markey: that disinformation you are referring to is that there are syrian troops there or that there are not syrian troops there? secretary stroul: we have not seen indications of large, tens of thousands of forces of syrian fighters being moved to ukraine. that's disinformation. senator markey: that's helpful. thank you, mr. chairman. chairman menendez: thank you. with the thanks of the committee to both of you for your testimony we look forward to continuing gaugement. there are about a dozen members who came here. so this is a topic of great significance. and are you both excused, thank you. for the purposes of the committee's information, it's the chair's intention in consultation with the ranking member to move through to the second panel to hear their testimony and then we'll see how far we can get to questions. as we call upon them to join us in the hearing room, we'll just introduce them.
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after 11 years of conflicts syria remains as far as ever to the conflict that will allow syrians to live in peace and dignity. one of the few constands to the conflict has been the assad regime's treatment of fellow syrians with the active support and participation of russia and iran. from bombs and double tap air strikes and first responder to the regimes' industrial-scale torture and murder of dissidents, actors, and their family members in a network of detention facilities. the numbers give a grim accounting of the suffering unleashed on syrians by the regime that would claim to often them. over half a million killed, nearly seven million internally displaced. 6.6 million registered as refugees around the world. more than half of syria's prewar population. 14.6 million inside syria need of humanitarian assistance. the numbers alone don't provide a full sense of the horrors inflicted by the regime and the
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continuing importance of holding asar and his syrian cronies and russian and iranian enablers accountable for the crimes. we like to welcome the man known only as the grave digger who will provide a howering and courageous eyewitness account of the regime's atrocities and attempt to literally bury the evidence of those crimes by burying its victims in mass graves. although we normally ask witnesses to limit their spoken testimony to five minutes, we have agreed to allow the grave digger 10 minutes for his opening statement to allow the full weight of his testimony to be felt. i'd also like to welcome professor stereo, the charles r. emrick juniorer grizz walled professor of law at the cleveland marshal college of law. professor is an expert on international criminal law and international human rights law. she has written extensively on
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atrocity, accountability in general. and its application to the syrian conflict in particular. thank you both for joining us today. with that, we'll recognize -- both of your statements will be fully included for the record. with that we'll recognize the grave digger for his remarks. the grave digger: thank you, chairman menendez. thank you, khaerz, and ranking member risch for holding this hearing and thank you senator risch for inviting me to speak. i am honored to give testimony before this storied committee. thank you for giving me a chance to bring my voice to the united states congress, government, and most importantly to the american people whose democracy inspired
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our revolution in syria over a decade ago. on march 11, 2020, the military photographer and defector caesar shared his story with you every day he photographed bodies that had been detained, tortured, murdered in syrian regime dunn tkpwopbs. the signs of torture were clear and the photographs were here on display in front of your honorable committee. you saw it with your own identifies -- eyes. innocent civilians experiencing the most brutal methods of torture. burning, strangulation, sodomy, and ultimately death all for daring to dream of a free syria. now over two years later nothing has changed in syria. that regime is no less brutal. the syrian people are no less at risk. how many more times does the witness to war crimes need to sit in front of you and describe the horrors of the assad regime.
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i hope that by sharing my story it sparks something inside you and maybe even renew hope for the future of syria. every time i tell my story, it takes a toll on me. but i have -- but all i have is my voice and will i speak until i can't anymore. i witness graves in syria until 2018 where men and women, children and elderly were tortured, executed, gassed, and bombed by the assad regime, irran, and russia and thrown into trenches, their fate unknown to loved ones. their lives have been lost. they cannot be saved. and they demand accountability. but the reason i am sharing my story today is to tell you that they are digging mass graves right now. to bury more victims of assad, iran, and russia. i'm a civilian. before the war i was an
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administrative employee of the damascus municipality. my job was to help families make final preparations for their loved ones passing. each funeral was dignified with religious prayers and rituals and all were properly laid to rest. family members were given an opportunity to say goodbye, and the sanctity of every grave was respected. in 2011, my office was visited by regime intelligence officials. and i was ordered to work for them. when the regime asked for something, you don't say no. i was not prepared for the horror of my duties. every week, twice a week, three trailer trucks arrived, packed with 300 to #00 bodies of victims of torture, bombardment, and slaughter. twice a week three to four pickup trucks with 30 to 40 bodies of civilians that had been executed in prison also
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arrived for disposal in the most inhumane way. after seven years of bearing witness to these atrocities, thanks to god and the ineptitude of the regime, i was able to escape syria and follow my family to europe. there it was not only my duty but my honor to testify before the german national court and seek some semblance of justice to hold war criminals accountable for an ongoing atrocities in syria. i have never been able to forget what i saw. the countless bodies i buried. it keeps me up at night. and will i never sleep soundly carrying this burden. no one should because these massacres are still happening. there are according to conservative estimates at least 150,000 missing and unaccounted for syrians. their families have no closure. holding out hope for any bit of information. my heart is heavy with the knowledge that many are at this very moment experiencing
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inhumane torture at the hands of the assad regime and some i know exactly where they are piled up into mass graves that are still being dug today. i know this because others who worked with me on the mass graves have very recently escaped and confirmed what we have been hearing. the syrian people have suffered enough. over the 11 years of war, hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians have not just been executed but starved, tortured, raped, burned, and murdered in the most sadistic ways anyone can imagine. men and women, children, and elderly, innocent people slowly tortured to death screaming in the darkness while the world looks the other way. those lucky enough not to be impriceoned live -- imprisoned live in fear every day being targeting with chemical weapons, cluster bombs, and internationally banned weapons. among those murdered are
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americans, including journalists and humanitarian workers. i will never forget how assad's forces ridiculed and laughed about the fact that they tortured, murdered, and phur rid europeans, too. as the leader of the free world america should set the example and live up to its values. the international order depends on it. when the international community fails to condemn crimes against humanity, genocidal massacres, the bombardment of hospitals and schools, and detention, criminal regimes will continue to push the limits unhindered. russia by its own admission tested over 200 weapons on civilians in syria. the international community looked the other way. and now russia is using those same weapons an tactics in ukraine that is honed in its evan years waging war against the syrian people. where is the line? chemical weapons against innocent civilians was not the
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line in syria. the playbook of these tyrants is written and i fear the worst for the ukrainian people. enabling assad enables putin, stopping assad hurts the russian dictator. we must finally learn from the past and not let this never again moment happen yet again. i lived with death for seven years. with dead bodies and soulless intelligence officers. it might seem unimaginable to you. let me share some of the horrors that have never left my mind. one day one of the trailer trucks with hundreds of bodies dumped its content of these hundreds of bodies, dead, mangled corpses into the trench in front of us. unexpectedly we saw a flicker of movement. there was a man near death but still alive desperately using his last reserve of energy to signal to us that somehow he was still alive.
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one of the civilian workers sai. said that we had to do something. the intelligence officer supervising us ordered the bulldozer driver to run him over. the driver could not hesitate or else he would have been next. he ran over the man in the trenches killing him. as for the young man in our workshop who dared to shed tears over the victim of assad regime, we never saw him again. once i had -- i was told to visit a farm of an intelligence officer. when i arrived there was about 10 intelligence officers, senior officers. they were eating and drinking alcohol and more surprisingly there were over 15 young men handcuffed, blindfolded, and naked on the ground. one of the intelligence officers ordered one of the soldiers to untie the civilians and let them go. the blindfold and handcuffs were removed and i remember the confusion and fear in the young
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men's eyes. an intelligence officer asked what they were waiting for to the young men? he dold them to run. and they took off. then another officer grabbed his rifle and picked the young men off one by one. every last one was murdered. then assad's officers continued with their festivities. i buried so many children tortured to death. i remember them all. i buried a mother still holding her infant to her breast as their liveless bodies were thrown into the trench among the others. one day i was at a military hospital where the bodies are processed before being sent to the mass graves. there was a body of a little girl, only 6 or 7 years old. her little lifeless body showed signs of terrible torture. the doctor at the hospital took me aside and told me he was ordered to write that she died of cardiac arrest.
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but in legality -- but in reality she had died as she was being continuously and horrifically raped by 11 assad regime intelligence officers. as members of the united states senate, you all have pouter to change the -- power to change the world. by sharing my story i am taking this burden off of my shoulders and sharing it with you all. this is now on your shoulders. on your conscience. take heed of what's happening in syria. although hundreds of thousands have already been murdered and disappeared, and millions displaced, the worst is still yet to come. it can be prevented. but i beg of you do not wait a second longer. i beg of you to take action. recently i was contacted by a bulldozer driver that worked during the same time that i worked there. there is a video that he has
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submitted that i would like to submit for the record. thank you. chairman menendez: thank you. that was the same believe senator risch asked for consent. it is included in the record. thank you very much, grave digger. professor sterio, you are peck recognized. dr. sterio: good morning, chairman menendez, ranking member risch, and members of the committee. it is an honor to testify before you today. it is also a privilege to share this platform with the other individuals testifying before the committee and especially the grave digger. the conflict in syria has continued over the past 11 years and has resulted in the commission of countless atrocities such as mass executions, widespread rapes, systematic torture, and repeated use of chemical weapons against civilians. these crimes require prosecution from a global deter rent standpoint. in light of the ongoing conflict in ukraine and the ordering of
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atrocities there by russian leaders, establishing accountability for those who ordered the commission of astros eut crimes whether in syria or ukraine has been pairment -- paramount. accountability of options for the prosecution of the syrian leaders range from prosecutions in the courts of syria and prosecutions in the national courts of various countries under the principle of universal jurisdiction to the establishment of a hybrid tribunal for syria and prosecutions in the international criminal court at the hague in the netherlands. first prosecutions in the courts of syria. assuming that there may be a transition of leadership in syria at some point in the future, a new syrian regime may be interested in imposing accountability on individuals associated with the assad regime. examples of countries where domestic courts have investigated similar crimes after a change in the governing regime including cambodia and colombia. if prosecutions were to occur in the syrian courts, the international community
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including the united states could assist syria by supporting the establishment of specialized internationalized chambers dedicated to the prosecution of atrocity crimes within the syrian judicial system. such internationally tkphrorted domestic chambers have already been created in iraq, boss knea, and the concept of piracy prosecutions in kenya. second, prosecutions in various national courts under the principle of universal jurisdiction. universal jurisdiction provides every state with the authority to prosecute a limited category of offenses againly -- generally recognized as a universal concern regardless where the offense occurred, the nationality of the perpetrator or the nationality of the victim. crimes over which universal jurisdiction epbgs tends includes piracy, slavery, war crimes, crimes against peace, humanity, genocide and torture. in the context of the syrian conflict some national level courts have relied on the principle of universal
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jurisdiction to initiate investigations and prosecutions. for example, on january 13, 2022, the higher regional court in germany conconvicted senior assad government official for a crime against humanity and sensed him to life in prison. in february of 2021 the same german court also convicted the co-defendant and a new case is currently being prosecuted in the courts in frankfurt, germany. a number of other european states have begun prosecuting syrian perpetrators found in their territories. some include france, sweden, switzerland, austria, and the netherlands. third, the establishment of a high tkreud tribunal for syria. they are courts that combine elements of international and national prosecutions and some recent examples of these hybrid tribunals include the special core for sierra leone. anti-special tribunal for lebanon. many have already advocated for the creation of a hybrid
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tribunal for syria. it could be created lieu threw an agreement signed by the united nations general astem -- united states general assembly or -- united nations general assembly or a security council resolution. both options are unlikely in the context of syria at the present, these options are important accountability avenues and should remain part of any future accountability discussions regarding syria. fourth, prosecutions at the international criminal court. the i.c.c. is the only permanent international criminal court and it is located at the hague in the netterlands and has jurisdiction over genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, as well as aggression. in the context of syria, the i.c.c.'s a limit option, syria is not a member state of the i.c.c., and this court has jurisdiction only in situations where the alleged perpetrator is a citizen of a member state or if the alleged crime takes place on the territory of a member state, the court can only launch prosecutions against individuals who committed crimes in syria
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but who are nationals of i.c.c. member states. a case can be referred to the i.c.c. through a security council resolution. any such resolution regarding syria is unlikely in light of the russian and chinese veto. the i.c.c. is an important global accountability option at a theoretical level and this involvement in syria should continue to be explored. one idea is a group of human rights lawyers recently advanced the arguments that crimes committed in syria have a link to jordan where many victims have fled to create territorial jurisdiction for the court as jordan is a member state. as the testimony has documented, there is a pressing need to establish accountability for atrocities committed during the syria conflict. different accountability options as mentioned include prosecutions in syrian courts, national level prosecutions under the principle of universal jurisdiction, the establishment of a hybrid tribunal for syria, as well as prosecution force the international criminal court.
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it is time the international community with support from the united states act towards accountability. imposing accountability on syrian leaders in particular is paramount in the wake of the ongoing conflict in ukraine and the commission of atrocities there by russian forces. it is crucial to establish that accountability attaches to all those who ordered the commission of atrocities, whether they be located in syria or ukraine. thank you. chairman menendez: thank you. senator risch. senator risch: mr. chairman, first of all i want to thank our witnesses for testifying here today. certainly these are hard to listen to but something that, as i said before, when this is over it's not over. it's important we keep this in front of everyone. i am interested in the principle of universal jurisdiction. i think we are at the very early stages of what that will be in the overall scheme of things . >> we'll leave this event here


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