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Enquiry: Refer Syrian war criminals to ICC

Member of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria Carla del Ponte addresses a news conference at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva today.

Member of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria Carla del Ponte addresses a news conference at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva today.

GENEVA – United Nations investigators said today that Syrian leaders they had identified as suspected war criminals should face the International Criminal Court.

The investigators urged the UN Security Council to “act urgently to ensure accountability” for violations, including murder and torture, committed by both sides in an uprising and civil war that has killed about 70,000 people since March 2011.

“Now really it’s time … We have a permanent court, the International Criminal Court, who would be ready to take this case,” Carla del Ponte, a former ICC chief prosecutor who joined the UN team in September, told a news briefing in Geneva.

But because Syria is not party to the Rome Statute that established the ICC, the only way the court can investigate the situation is if it receives a referral from the Security Council. Russia, Assad’s long-standing ally and a permanent veto-wielding member of the council, has opposed such a move.

“We cannot decide. But we pressure the international community to decide because it’s time to act,” del Ponte said.

Brazilian expert Paulo Pinheiro, who leads the UN inquiry set up in 2011, said: “We are in very close dialogue with all the five permanent members and with all the members of the Security Council, but we don’t have the key that will open the path to cooperation inside the Security Council.”

His team of some two dozen experts is tracing the chain of command in Syria to establish criminal responsibility and build a case for eventual prosecution.

“Of course we were able to identify high-level perpetrators,” del Ponte said, adding that these were people “in command responsibility… deciding, organising, planning and aiding and abetting the commission of crimes”.


She said it was urgent for the Hague-based war crimes tribunal to take up cases of “very high officials”, but did not identify them, in line with the inquiry’s practice.

“We have crimes committed against children, rape and sexual violence. We have grave concerns. That is also one reason why an international body of justice must act because it is terrible.”

Del Ponte, who tried former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia on war crimes charges, said the ICC prosecutor would need to deepen the investigation on Syria before an indictment could be prepared. (Reuters)

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