The bill comes as Arab governments move to rekindle relations with al-Assad’s government after years of diplomatic isolation.
Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar introduced a bill urging the United States to support international efforts to hold the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accountable for “war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
In a statement Thursday, Tlaib said the victims of Syria’s civil war have yet to receive justice and the perpetrators face few consequences.
“The Assad regime committed some of the worst atrocities of the 21st century during the country’s civil war that began in 2011,” Tlaib said in the statement.
“These include, among others, the use of sarin gas and other chemical weapons against civilians, the widespread use of torture, and the deliberate targeting of civilians with conventional weapons.”
The bill comes as Arab governments move to pull the Assad regime out of the cold after years of diplomatic isolation. But the United States, under the administration of President Joe Biden, has insisted that it will not follow in his footsteps.
The Syrian civil war began as a series of uprisings against the repressive policies of the Assad government, but the conflict grew, attracting numerous foreign powers and militant groups. Since then, it has displaced nearly half of Syria’s pre-war population and killed nearly half a million people.
Tlaib and Omar’s Thursday statement says their bill is designed to encourage the US to back efforts to create international justice mechanisms to hold the Assad government accountable.
“The international community has previously established ad hoc tribunals, special tribunals and other justice mechanisms through the United Nations to bring justice to specific countries where there have been war crimes,” their statement said.
“Given the sheer number and scale of atrocities committed during the Syrian civil war, an international justice mechanism is clearly needed.”
Last month, war crimes investigators concluded that the Syrian government had deployed “shabbiha” militias to suppress dissent, using methods including torture and sexual violence against suspected opponents.
In June, Syrian survivors of “enforced disappearances”, which can involve secret arrests, detentions and abductions, also called on the United Nations to support efforts to locate the estimated 100,000 Syrians who remain missing and bring the perpetrators to justice. Enforced disappearances are considered a crime against humanity under international law.
However, as Assad has cemented his control over large swaths of the country, leaders across the Arab world have taken steps to repair ties with the Syrian government that were damaged or severed during the war.
In May, the Arab League made the controversial decision to reinstate Syria’s membership after suspending it more than 10 years ago. Critics of the Assad administration have expressed dismay at the decision, seeing it as a vindication of the methods used by his government.
Tlaib and Omar, members of a group of progressive US lawmakers, have been outspoken critics of alleged human rights abuses in Syria, as well as US allies such as Israel, Egypt, India and Saudi Arabia.
Earlier this week, they boycotted a speech by Israeli President Isaac Herzog to members of Congress, citing accusations by Palestinians and numerous human rights groups that the Israeli government is perpetuating the crime of apartheid.
Last month, Omar and Tlaib also boycotted a speech to Congress by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose government has been accused of stifling dissent and fomenting violence and discrimination against minorities.