The investigative panel created by the United Nations with the collaboration of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) recently published its report on the use of chemical weapons by the military forces of Bashar Assad's regime. According to the report, the panel is confident that the regime is responsible for the release of sarin gas on Khan Sheikhoun, Syria in April 2017. The attack killed dozens of civilians.
As the panel was created by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), its report will most probably be taken seriously and will provoke a heated debate at the council. A debate does not necessarily mean action, though. There are plenty of examples where such atrocities were simply condemned by the U.N. without any serious consequence for the perpetrators. The inaction will perhaps show the world once again how ineffective the UNSC has become, and maybe this is an achievement in itself.
What needs to be done is to make the International Criminal Court (ICC) take action, as that is what the ICC was created for. If the judges and prosecutors of the ICC find time to look somewhere other than Africa, they will notice there are a lot of cases that deserve attention. Syria is one of them.
International courts and organizations like the U.N. close their eyes to massacres, atrocities or human tragedies from time to time. Nevertheless, we have also seen a number of cases about which states decided to take action on their own in the name of eradicating the risk of chemical war. This is what the United States did in Iraq, as Saddam Hussein's use of chemical weapons on civilians in his own country was the most important justification for military intervention. He was captured sometime after the U.S. occupation, but he did not get an international trial, simply because he could not be condemned to death if he had been judged by an international court. He faced an Iraqi tribunal instead, which gave him the death penalty. As such, his case cannot be seen as an example for the improvement of international criminal justice.
The U.N. panel's report offers good evidence to bring Assad to justice one day. In fact, the possibilities are not many, as either the UNSC will adopt new sanctions, which will probably prove useless once again; Assad will be prosecuted for crimes against humanity; or a country or coalition of countries will intervene in the name of humanity to stop this atrocity. Or maybe, everyone will look away, and Assad will feel free to use chemical weapons again whenever he wants.
Who can intervene and how to intervene in Syria are, of course, critical questions. Because of the mistakes he has made, Assad has brought his country to total chaos, which has pulled everybody in. Assad has created such a mess and he made the situation in Syria so complex that it became impossible to conduct any international intervention with minimum losses and at reasonable length. He let as many players as possible in the game to be able to remain on the scene as long as possible.
Nonetheless, the U.N.'s report is maybe an indicator that his time is up. Maybe the moment has arrived to get rid of him and replace him with a new ruler. This will, of course, be possible only if Russia and the U.S. agree on it. Many people think there is unbearable tension between Moscow and Washington, but maybe this is not true. Maybe they just need to give the impression that there is tension. The supposed tension between these two leading powers allows their presidents to reinforce their position in their respective countries. Maybe Presidents Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump are just forcing other countries to pick their side.