- Bashar al-Assad - civil war - peace - Syria - United Nations
UN updates list of Syrian war crimes suspects
UN human rights investigators announced on Monday that they had compiled a confidential new list of Syrian and government military forces suspected of committing war crimes during the country's 18 month-old conflict.
United Nations human rights investigators announced on Monday that they had drawn up a confidential new list of Syrian and military forces suspected of committing war crimes, including murder and torture.
The independent investigators, led by Paulo Pinheiro, said they had gathered “a formidable and extraordinary body of evidence” and urged the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
“Gross human rights violations have grown in number, in pace and in scale,” Pinheiro told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. “There is no statute of limitations on these crimes.”
He did not say if any Syrian rebels were among the names on the list, which updated a previous one his team submitted to UN rights chief Navi Pillay in February.
Pinheiro presented the team’s latest report, issued a month ago, saying Syrian government forces and allied militia have committed war crimes in what appears to be a state-directed policy. The 18 month-old conflict has claimed more than 20,000 lives, left another 1.2 million uprooted from their homes and forced around 250,000 people to seek refuge outside of Syria’s borders, according to the United Nations.
Necessities like food, water and medical supplies have become scarce in areas targeted by Syrian government air strikes, shelling and assaults, Pinheiro said, adding that investigators had received “numerous accounts...of civilians barely managing to survive.”
Pinheiro reported an “increasing and alarming presence” of Islamist militants in Syria. While some have joined rebel forces, others have remained entirely independent. According to the chief investigator, their presence in the conflict has radicalised some rebels, who are also thought to be guilty of war crimes.
Faced with the question of making the list of suspects public, Pinheiro argued that it would be “improper” to do so, saying that those on it were entitled to the presumption of innocence while noting that there is also no system currently in place to deal with the situation.
His team interviewed more than 1,100 victims, refugees and defectors in the past year. “We have no interviews with wounded soldiers or families of dead agents of the government because the government of Syria does now allow us access to Syria.”
Syrian Ambassador Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui accused Western and Arab powers of arming and funding rebels conducting a “jihad”, or holy war, against Damascus, warning their actions could backfire.
“The mercenaries are a time-bomb that will explode later in the country and in the countries supporting them after they finish their terrorist mission in Syria,” Khabbaz Hamoui said.
He then went on to say that the report should have also named countries that “support the killers”, which he said included the United States, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Libya.
Syria says foes back “jihad”
“One of the facts that we do not see in the report is that many international parties are working at increasing the crisis in Syria through instigating their media, through training mercenaries, Qaeda elements, training them and funding them and sending them to Syria for jihad. This through fatwas that were issued,” Khabbaz Hamoui said during the four-hour debate.
Russia, a Syrian ally that has vetoed the West’s repeated attempts to condemn the crisis at the UN Security Council, has supported Khabbaz Hamoui version of events, saying rebels had committed “terrorist acts”, including executions. Russian authorities have also blamed increased jihadist activity on “support from the outside”.
“There are jihadist mercenaries fighting on the opposition side. Those who in the view of some states are bringing democracy to the region are in actual fact carrying out mass murder,” Russian diplomat Maria Khodynskaya-Golenishcheva said.
“They are deliberately firing on peaceful inhabitants who support the government...and are using hostages as suicide bombers and children as soldiers,” she added.
Despite previous failed attempts, Western powers are seeking another condemnation of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government at the session, as well as an extension of the commission of inquiry’s mandate, which expires this month.
European Union Ambassador Mariangela Zappia said, “The international community must ensure impunity will not prevail.”
US Human Rights Ambassador to the UN Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe also called for the investigators to pursue their work.
Turkey’s Ambassador Oguz Demiralp, describing the conflict in Syria as a “serious threat to international security”, said those behind the crimes would be held accountable.
Human Rights Watch, which has repeatedly documented abuses by Syrian security forces, said on Monday that rebel groups had subjected detainees to ill-treatment and torture and committed extrajudicial or summary executions.
“Declarations by opposition groups that they want to respect human rights are important, but the real test is how opposition forces behave,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director of the New York-based watchdog. “Those assisting the Syrian opposition have a particular responsibility to condemn abuses.”
(FRANCE 24 with wires)