Syria says ICC call hinders search for end to conflict
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A call by nearly 60 states for the Syria conflict to be referred to the International Criminal Court for an investigation into war crimes is "complicating the situation and hindering the search for an end to the crisis," Syria's U.N. envoy said.
In a letter to the U.N. Security Council, Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari also called for sanctions imposed on his country by the European Union, the United States and others to be lifted because they were a punishing the Syrian people.
"They have contributed directly to the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the country by violating the rights of Syrians and depriving them of such basic commodities as fuel, food and medicine," Ja'afari wrote in the January 18 letter, released on Friday.
The United Nations said more than 60,000 people have been killed during a 22-month-old revolt against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which began with peaceful protests but turned violent after Assad's forces tried to crush the demonstrations.
Last week almost 60 countries urged the 15-member Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which prosecutes people for genocide and war crimes, in order to send a signal to Syrian authorities.
But Russia - Assad's long-standing ally and a permanent veto-wielding member of the council - opposed the initiative, calling it "ill-timed and counterproductive.
Ja'afari said Syria shared the international concern at the humanitarian crisis in Syria and the rights abuses being committed by "armed terrorist groups."
"However, the Syrian government finds it regrettable that those states have persisted in their dangerously flawed approach by refusing to recognize the Syrian state's duty to protect its people from terrorism imposed from abroad," he wrote.
Assad's government has repeatedly accused Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, the United States and other Western governments of supporting and arming the rebels. The governments deny providing weapons to the rebels.
"Syria has established an independent, transparent and credible national commission of inquiry to investigate complaints of human rights violations committed by civilians and soldiers," Ja'afari said.
"Domestic remedies have therefore not been exhausted, something that is a primary and fundamental condition before the issue can be referred to international bodies," he said.
Syria is not a party to the Rome Statute, which set up the International Criminal Court, so the only way the court can investigate the situation is if it receives a referral from the Security Council. The council has previously referred conflicts in Libya and Darfur, Sudan to the court.
Permanent council members the United States, Russia and China are not members of the court.
Ja'afari said that the countries calling for the referral to the International Criminal Court "ought to support international efforts towards a political solution based on national dialogue ... instead of complicating the situation and hindering the search for an end to the crisis."
The United Nations said more than 650,000 Syrians have fled the country, while millions more have been displaced and are in desperate need of help. The United Nations hopes to raise $1.5 billion to fund Syria aid assistance at a donors conference in Kuwait on January 30.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Jackie Frank)