Back in March, I reported on a pledge by Herman Van Rompuy, who chairs the summits of EU leaders, that the EU would collect information about atrocities in Syria so that their perpetrators could one day be held accountable. (My report is here: goo.gl/CwY5o)
Van Rompuy's comments at the time appeared to be somewhat improvised. They were certainly vague. Equally vague was the language contained in the formal statement of the EU leaders from that summit.
Almost one year on, it is fair to ask where this information is, if it exists at all.
I doubt that the EU, as an organisation, really is collecting such information. I also doubt that the EU is in any way sifting through whatever information the member states may have made available to it, combing it for anything that might become relevant in future prosecutions.
The realist in me thinks that this is fair enough. After all, investigations - let alone prosecutions - by the International Criminal Court would require a referral from the UN Security Council, where veto-wielding China and Russia are blocking any action on their Damascene client. If there is no realistic chance in the world that they will green-light ICC action, why bother preparing for it?
But there's the idealist in me who believes that documenting atrocities, even without any prospect of judicial action, is in itself a useful thing - a moral obligation, even. Mind you, this is a dangerous argument. Documenting atrocities can easily become a substitute for trying to stop them: just consider the satellite images of thousands of Bosnian Muslims herded by Serb forces after the fall of Srebrenica. One day they're there, the next day they're gone, and nobody tried to intervene.
If I was doubtful back in March that the EU would actually do what van Rompuy claimed it would do, today I'm just cynical. The world has watched the slaughter in Syria with diminishing interest. The minds of those who are watching have been numbed by the violence. Assad's claim that the rebels were merely Jihadist terrorists guilty of atrocities no longer looks as ridiculous as it did a year ago; rather, it is slowly turning into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Meanwhile, to the EU leaders who will meet in Brussels next week, Syria has just become another brief agenda item. They will deplore, condemn, call upon and emphasise in their final statement. But they will not act.