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UN panel to vote to send Syria war crimes to International Criminal Court

Bashar Jaafari, right, Syria's Ambassador to the United

Bashar Jaafari, right, Syria's Ambassador to the United Nations, listens to aides after a meeting with the Security Council on May 13, 2014 at UN headquarters in New York. Credit: Getty Images / Stan Honda

UNITED NATIONS -- The UN Security Council will vote as early as next week on whether to refer crimes likely committed in war-torn Syria to the International Criminal Court.

The 15-member group responsible for world peace and security will discuss a draft resolution submitted by France that seeks to hold both Syrian government officials and the opposition accountable for "crimes against humanity and war crimes [that] are likely to have been committed in the Syrian Arab Republic."

It surfaces just days after the resignation of Lakhdar Brahimi, the joint UN and Arab League envoy who tried to broker talks between the opposition and government in an attempt to end the war diplomatically. Brahimi resigned on Tuesday, saying the divisions in the international community prevented meaningful outcomes for the two rounds of talks.

Fresh debate over the draft resolution may reveal once again the sharp divisions within the Security Council chamber, where the five permanent veto-wielding powers are split on the best course of action for Syria. The country is embroiled in a rapacious civil war that has claimed, by some estimates, more than 150,000 lives.

The measure would need at least 9 yes votes and no vetoes to pass. It also carries with it the authority, under provisions of Chapter VII of the UN Charter, to use force to enforce it.

France, the United States and Britain have sided with the opposition, which itself is beset by elements of the terrorist group Qaeda within its ranks. and Russia and China have vetoed resolutions that are hostile to Syria's President Bashar Assad, who draws military and monetary strength from Iran, a U.S. adversary.

The 3-year-old civil war that began in March 2011 has been replete with allegations of the widespread use of torture, including the forced starvation and physical brutalization of detainees, the use of chemical weapons on civilians and the blocking of food and medicine by both rebel and government forces. It has become a humanitarian disaster, experts have said, with millions of people leaving the country to reside in cramped refugee camps in neighboring countries or to roam as internally displaced persons within the country.

Earlier this month, the UN reported that the water supply to Aleppo, one of the besieged cities that has been a rebel stronghold, was cut by off "by armed groups" for up to eight days, causing UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to say that "deliberate targeting of civilians and depriving them of essential supplies is a clear breach of international humanitarian and human rights law."

Established in 2002 by the Rome Statute and ratified by 122 countries -- not including the United States -- the International Criminal Court "is the first permanent, treaty based, international criminal court established to help end impunity for the perpetrators of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community," according to the court's website.

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