Last updated: 28 February, 2012

Clinton wary of declaring Assad a war criminal

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday an argument could be made for declaring President Bashar al-Assad a war criminal, but said such action could complicate a solution in Syria.

“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.

The secretary appeared to be referring to Yemen, where the United States supported a deal that gave outgoing Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh “complete” immunity from prosecution in return for stepping down.

The United States defended that deal as a way to promote democracy in Yemen.

In Brussels on Monday, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said France wants to see the Syrian regime dragged before the International Criminal Court (ICC), saying he would plead for such action before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

He said he would say that he hopes to “see the international community reflect on the conditions of a referral to the ICC.”

But he said that, as Syria was not a party to the Rome convention establishing the ICC, the tribunal could not initiate action itself and it would be up to the UN Security Council to refer the matter.