Syria has become emblematic of defacto impunity for those senior leaders suspected of atrocity crimes, and whereby the mechanisms for justice by United Nations institutions remain elusive. Moreover, as international and hybrid courts appear in decline, Syria raises a broader question: is there a future for international criminal justice when allegations of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide arise? This paper addresses the options for accountability for senior leaders of the Syrian government suspected of atrocity crimes. Specifically, the paper explores the role of the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA). As non-state actors, CIJA have investigated core international crimes in Syria since 2011 in order to fill the impunity gap.  To date, CIJA claim to have collected over 800,000 military, security-intelligence and political (Baath party) documents that followed a chain of custody and have been smuggled out of Syria. In an undisclosed location in Europe, CIJA’s analysts and prosecutors with previous experience from international criminal tribunals (such as ICTY, ICTR and ICC, amongst others), claim to have prepared ten case briefs against the top fifty leaders of the Syrian government, including the President of Syria, Bashar al Assad. In February 2019, CIJA’s material contributed to the first arrest of a senior member of the Syrian government by German federal police for crimes against humanity, specifically in relation to the illegal detention and torture of Syrian demonstrators in the early days of the Arab Spring. This paper provides a conceptual framework (or Basic Framework) for how we should view the role of non-state (and other non-traditional) actors, which attempt to fill the impunity gap in relation to senior actors suspected of core international crimes in the contemporary international order.


Dr Melinda Rankin, The University of Queensland.

About the program

Futures of International Order is a seminar program designed to foster interdisciplinary dialogue on the possible futures of the modern international order, and is convened by Jacinta O’Hagan, Sarah Percy and Chris Reus-Smit.


General Purpose North (#39A)
The University of Queensland
St Lucia campus