October 2013

Catholic US News

Congressional hearing considers Syrian war crimes tribunal

Washington D.C., Oct 31, 2013 / 05:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a hearing before a congressional committee, policy officials called for the establishment of a Syrian war crimes tribunal to bring to justice those guilty of human rights violations in the 30-month long conflict.

“Those who have perpetrated human rights violations among the Syrian government, the rebels and the foreign fighters on both sides of this conflict must be shown that their actions will have serious consequences,” said Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.), chairman of the House’s subcommittee on global human rights, at the Oct. 30 hearing.

“This is not an academic exercise. We must understand the difficulties of making accountability for war crimes in Syria a reality.” 

Smith added that “therefore, we must understand the challenges involved so that we can meet and overcome them and give hope to the terrorized people of Syria. Their suffering must end, and the beginning of that end could come through the results of today’s proceeding.”

The call for a war crimes tribunal is a response to the gross human rights violations allegedly perpetrated by both government and rebel forces during a violent civil war that has racked Syria for more than two years.

In late August, reports indicated that chemical weapons had been used against civilians in the country, killing more than 1,400 people.

The Obama administration said it had conclusive evidence that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad was responsible for these attacks, though the Syrian government denied this charge and blamed the rebels for the use of chemical weapons.

The possibility of a U.S. military strike against Syria sparked strong opposition from Russia, whose leaders said they have compiled an extensive report with evidence that rebels used chemical weapons back in March.

After several days of talks, an agreement was reached for Syria’s chemical weapons to be eliminated. The process is being overseen by the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

On Oct. 31, weapons inspectors in Syria announced that the country’s declared equipment for producing chemical weapons has been destroyed. The regime is to destroy its existing stock of chemical weapons by July 2014.

Smith introduced a resolution asking for a war crimes tribunal on Sept. 9, as a way to enforce international human rights standards prohibiting the use of chemical weapons, while at the same time avoiding the escalation of violence in the war-torn country that would likely result from a U.S. strike.

The Oct. 30 joint hearing focused on “the pros and cons of creating and sustaining a Syrian war crimes tribunal,” Smith said.

David Crane, former chief prosecutor for a U.N. special court for Sierra Leone, noted that “we can prosecute heads of state for international crimes,” and that this prosecution has been done before, such as in the case of former Liberian president Charles Taylor.

Crane outlined five “possibilities for a justice mechanism” that could be used in Syria: the International Criminal Court; an ad hoc court created by the United Nations; a regional court authorized by a treaty with a regional body; an internationalized domestic court; or a domestic court comprised of Syrian nationals within a Syrian justice system.

He added that he believes the International Criminal Court is “just not up to the task” of handling a Syrian war crimes tribunal, and that a local, domestic system would be preferable as it would help Syria “transition to a sustainable peace.”

Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program for Human Rights Watch, agreed that trials should be held to assure justice for the human rights offenses committed, but argued that a trial should take place within the already-existing International Criminal Court rather than through an ad hoc court that must be created and regulated.

Alan White, an investigator for the U.N.’s Sierra Leone court, asserted that “an immediate alternative needs to be aggressively pursued,” but warned that conducting a war crimes tribunal “is one of the most challenging, if not the most difficult and demanding type of investigation within the international justice system.”

For the tribunal’s success, he said, witnesses must be protected, and the court should be focused on assuring justice for the victims, not on political accountability to the international community.

Stephen Rademaker of the Bipartisan Policy Center noted that he is typically a critic of war crimes tribunals, but acknowledged that “there are several unique features to the Syrian conflict” that may merit the creation of a tribunal, namely the “humanitarian catastrophe in Syria” and the international community’s “moral obligation to try to address it.”

He stressed that a tribunal would help bring to justice human rights offenders on both sides of the civil war, and the public accountability of a trial would help to dissuade future humanitarian offenses. In addition, the tribunal would delegitimize the Assad regime, and “reinforce diplomatic efforts to remove Assad from power.”

The Syrian conflict has now dragged on for 30 months, since demonstrations sprang up nationwide in March 2011 protesting the rule of al-Assad.

In April of that year, the Syrian army began to deploy to put down the uprisings, firing on protesters. Since then, the violence has morphed into a civil war which has claimed the lives of more than 115,000 people.

There are at least 2.1 million Syrian refugees in nearby countries, most of them in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey.

An additional 4.5 million Syrian people are believed to have been internally displaced by the war.

Catholic World News

Pope was concerned interview could be misunderstood, writer says

Vatican City, Oct 31, 2013 / 04:03 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- According to a Catholic writer in Italy, Pope Francis was aware that his reported words in an Oct. 1 interview published in “La Repubblica” could be misunderstood, and took measures concerning this.

Antonio Socci, a Catholic columnist for the Italian newspaper “Libero,” wrote Oct. 27 that after the publication of the interview, Pope Francis was fully aware of the risk of misunderstanding of some of his words, particularly those on conscience.

In the interview, Eugenio Scalfari, founder and former director of “La Repubblica,” quoted Pope Francis as saying that “the conscience is autonomous, and everyone must obey his conscience.”

Pope Francis reportedly reiterated his phrase, adding that “everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them. That would be enough to make the world a better place.”

These sentences led to a certain amount of criticism for the Roman Pontiff.

The Pope’s knowledge that he could be misunderstood is why – according to Socci – Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See press office, was “told to maintain that the text of the interview had not been revised by Pope Francis and that it was penned by Scalfari after an informal chat.”

Fr. Lombardi also underlined that “the interview is not part of Pope Francis’ Magisterium.”

Despite this, “L’Osservatore Romano,” the Vatican newspaper, re-published the interview in its Oct. 2 edition, and it is included among Pope Francis’ speeches on the Vatican’s website.

According to Socci, Pope Francis “regretted” the publication of the interview in “L’Osservatore Romano” and “complained of it to the director, Gian Maria Vian, in Assisi on Oct. 4.”

Video from Vatican TV shows that when Pope Francis went to visit the tomb of St. Francis of Assisi, he stopped by and had a one-minute chat with Vian.

According to Socci, “that is probably the moment when Pope Francis complained to Vian.”

It is impossible to catch something of the conversation through the video, because of the background noise.

In fact, only two people were close enough to Pope Francis to listen to the conversation between him and Vian: journalist Aldo Cazzullo, and vice-director of the Holy See press office, Fr. Ciro Benedettini.

Socci confirmed to CNA Oct. 28 that he “learned about the Pope’s regret by two different sources,” and he asserted that “both of these sources were part of the Pope’s entourage.”

Socci further stated that “critics of Pope Francis for his view on conscience are double-dealing.”

“Would you really believe Pope Francis thinks that everybody can have his own idea of good and evil and thus justify what he does?” he asked.

“Is it really possible Pope Francis has an idea that would make being Christians, or believing in God, into nonsense?”

Socci underscored that “Pope Francis’ teachings on corruption, confession, the danger of the devil, all prove that Pope Francis’ view is orthodox, and that he had not watered down the teachings of the Church, and particularly the doctrines of the Church.”

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