Clinton: Calling Assad a war criminal doesn't help

I've speculated recently that the absence of serious discussion about referring Syria to the International Criminal Court--a step that would require a UN Security Council resolution--reflects more than just a gloomy realization that Russia and China would likely veto such an attempt. I think the Libya experience in some respects soured the Obama administration, and maybe other Western states, on ICC referrals in the midst of conflict. In comments before a Senate committee today, Hillary Clinton gave the strongest indication yet that the United States doesn't see international justice as helpful in the Syrian context:

"Based on definitions of war criminal and crimes against humanity, there would be an argument to be made that he would fit into that category," Clinton told a Senate hearing on the State Department budget.

"People have been putting forth the argument," the chief US diplomat said.

"But I also think that from long experience that can complicate a resolution of a difficult, complex situation because it limits options to persuade leaders perhaps to step down from power," Clinton said.

This is a remarkably broad statement that flies in the face of a lot of American rhetoric (though not necessarily American practice) regarding international justice. I'd expect that Clinton will get some serious pushback from the human rights community--and that she may feel compelled to walk back her statement.


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