Public Bound Edition Preview: Professor Kenneth Williams on Syria

Written by Professor Kenneth Williams


During the civil war in Syria, tens of thousands of innocent Syrians have lost their lives. Many more will also lose their lives as the war continues with no end in sight.  The United Nations Human Rights Council has called for the human rights transgressors to be held criminally accountable for their actions. Although it is reassuring that the United Nations has not taken a blind eye to the situation in Syria as it has so often in the past when serious human rights breaches have occurred, its call for criminal prosecutions in all likelihood has made it more difficult to achieve a peaceful resolution of the conflict. The dilemma that the international community confronts in Syria, between holding those who violate human rights accountable, which likely prolongs the civil war or achieving peace while at the same time allowing those who have killed and used chemical weapons and committed other atrocities to escape justice, motivated me to right this article and to propose a possible solution to this recurring dilemma.

Those who commit gross human rights violations have historically not been held accountable for their actions. That is no longer the case. The modern trend is to prosecute individuals who commit human rights atrocities. As the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has stated, international law has evolved from an “old era of impunity” to a “new age of accountability.” Most international scholars would support this trend. However, the prospect of criminal prosecution may cause human rights violators to be more reluctant to give up power and agree to any peaceful resolution of a conflict. This article makes the case that a one-size-fits-all approach which mandates criminal accountability in each and every instance in which human rights have been violated may actually make it more difficult in some situations to achieve peace. Therefore, a more flexible approach is required. This article suggests that in some circumstances, the international community should be able to forgo prosecutions if the U.N. Security Council determines that the prospect of criminal prosecution may hinder the peaceful resolution of a conflict. This article proposes that the Security Council be given the authority to grant amnesty to human rights violators if it decides that is what is necessary in order to restore international peace and security.


Kenneth Williams is a Professor at South Texas College of Law, where he teaches criminal law and procedure, evidence, capital punishment, international human rights and international criminal law.  In addition to his teaching responsibilities, Professor Williams is also a national expert on Capital Punishment.  He is the author of recently published book on the death penalty, “Most Deserving of Death?” and has also authored numerous law review articles.  In 2013 Professor Williams was selected as a Fulbright Specialist to teach a course on the American Legal System at the Federal University of Bahia in Brazil. He has also taught in summer abroad programs in Argentina, Chile and Canada. Professor Williams has represented several death row inmates during their federal habeas corpus proceedings.  He has been successful before both the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas in obtaining relief for inmates who were sentenced to death in violation of their constitutional rights.  Professor Williams has also made numerous media appearances and has served as a panelist discussing issues related to criminal law and capital punishment.

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