Common Ground: U.S. must get serious about human rights

Nick Bratcher

The shooting starts.

You peek outside and see three men dressed in black with guns indiscriminately firing at anything that moves in your neighborhood.

However, more shots are coming from all over, so these people likely have snipers. Machine guns are also firing in rapid succession.

If this is a nightmare, you pray desperately to awaken. You try to recount any reasons why this would be happening to you.

But none of this makes sense. You’ve never held a gun in your life.

Your father is too old to leave his bed, and your blind aunt will be too much trouble to move into hiding away from the shooting.

You abandon them to save your mother.

When you return from the valley beneath your neighborhood, in which you hid, your father was shot and killed in his bed.

Your aunt, an 80-year-old blind woman, was also killed in her room.

Sound unbelievable? Sound like something from a fictional piece of drama?

For one Syrian man mentioned in the Human Rights Watch’s report on a military offensive that began in the rural Latakia Governorate of Syria on Aug. 4, it was a terrible reality carried out by five groups of Syrian rebels.

HRW has identified 190 civilians who were killed in the deliberately planned attacks, as well as 200 people who were captured for living in pro-government neighborhoods.

So, what should the United States do about such injustice?

Well, right now, we technically can’t do much of anything because we’re not a party to the International Criminal Court.

If you’re not aware of the significance of this fact, I’ll offer you a quick summary.

In 1998, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly by a vote of 120-7 with 21 countries abstaining.

In 2002, the Rome Statute became a binding agreement to all 60 countries who had already ratified it. Currently, 122 countries are party to the ICC.

These countries are now subject to the rulings of a permanent court to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

The U.S. is not among them.

It holds many reservations against the court, but the truth of the matter is that we don’t want to be held accountable when we decide to break the rules to which we bind other countries.

The real problem here is that if the U.S. refuses to be held accountable, it does not have the power to hold other countries accountable either, parties to this court or not.

If these rebels fled to the United States, we would not be legally justified to extradite them back to Syria for trial.

I understand that the U.S. is locked in political gridlock and turmoil as we futilely try to get our economic situation under control.

But as we try to extend health care to some Americans, should we not also be concerned with people around the world and their right to simply live?

I know this is not going to be a priority in your mind. I know that right now, all we can think about is debt ceilings, government shutdowns and health care.

But please, don’t forget the Syrians of this world.

The U.S. can’t lead effectively if it won’t let itself be held accountable to treaties and conventions that should be binding, even if it means we must clear a few ugly skeletons from our closet.