War crimes evidence in Syria solid enough for indictment: U.N.

GENEVA Tue Mar 18, 2014 6:01pm EDT

A man inspects the damage at a site hit by what activists said were barrel bombs dropped by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Aleppo's district of al-Sukari March 16, 2014. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah

A man inspects the damage at a site hit by what activists said were barrel bombs dropped by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Aleppo's district of al-Sukari March 16, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Ammar Abdullah

GENEVA (Reuters) - U.N. investigators said on Tuesday they had expanded their list of suspected war criminals from both sides in Syria's civil war and the evidence was solid enough to prepare any indictment.

The U.N. inquiry has identified individuals, military units and security agencies as well as insurgent groups suspected of committing abuses such as torture and bombing civilian areas, it said in its report to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Some 20 investigators have carried out 2,700 interviews with victims, witnesses and defectors in the region and by Skype in Syria, but have never been allowed to enter the country now in its fourth year of an increasingly sectarian conflict.

However, despite the accumulation of evidence, diplomats say it is unlikely Syria would be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) that tries war crimes suspects in The Hague any time soon.

As Syria has not signed the Rome statutes setting up the ICC, the U.N. Security Council would need to make the referral. Russia, supported by China, has shielded its ally Syria throughout the war, vetoing three U.N. resolutions that would have condemned President Bashar al-Assad's government and threatened it with possible sanctions.

"We do not lack information on crimes or even on perpetrators. What we lack is a means by which to achieve justice and accountability but this is not in our powers," Paulo Pinheiro, the chairman of the U.N. commission of inquiry on Syria, told a news conference.

The commission said the period of January 20 to March 10 was characterized by escalating hostilities between insurgent groups throughout northern and northeastern provinces as Islamist rebel strongholds came under attack.

Government forces have dropped barrel bombs on Aleppo and other cities, causing extensive civilian casualties in areas with no clear military target, and severely tortured detainees.

The mostly Sunni Muslim Insurgents seeking to topple Assad, whose minority Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, have used car and suicide bombs targeting civilian areas - also violations of international law, the commission said.

Fighters from al Qaeda splinter group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as ISIS, executed detainees, including civilians, and captured soldiers, in Aleppo, Idlib and al Raqqa before coming under attack by other armed groups such as the Islamic Front, it said.

CONFIDENTIAL LISTS

Four confidential lists of suspects have been drawn up, including the names of those responsible for hostage-taking, torture and execution, Pinheiro said.

"It also contains names of the heads of intelligence branches and detention facilities where detainees are tortured, names of military commanders who target civilians, airports from which barrel bomb attacks are planned and executed, and armed groups involved in attacking and displacing civilians," he said.

Carla del Ponte, a former U.N. war crimes prosecutor who is on the inquiry, said the investigators had gathered "objective evidence" including photographs and documents that could used by a prosecutor for any future ICC case.

"This commission has collected a lot of evidence that can be used tomorrow to prepare an indictment," she said.

"Referral to justice is an urgent, extremely urgent need, but as you know the Security Council cannot take the decision to refer to the ICC because of the veto."

Photos published by the Guardian newspaper in January appeared to confirm their previous findings on the government's systematic torture of detainees, the U.N. investigators said.

"I must assure you that the commission has taken these allegations very seriously, and we are investigating the evidence of torture, killing and starvation of detainees related to this case," Pinheiro added.

The independent team was set up in September 2011, months after the start of the revolt in which at least 140,000 people have been killed.

It has called repeatedly for the Security Council to refer Syria to the ICC prosecutor, a call endorsed again by Britain, the European Union, France and Switzerland on Tuesday.

Syrian ambassador Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui denounced the commission, in comments echoed by its ally Iran. "Referral to the ICC is a politicized and unlawful step as there are national judicial mechanisms available in Syria," he said.

Khabbaz Hamoui accused the commission of working for the political agendas of countries that are supporting the rebels - naming the United States, Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

(Editing by Alison Williams)

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Comments (6)
itsmysayokay wrote:
The Iranian delegation said the move to refer its ally to the ICC constituted a “highly-politicized and illegitimate incitement”.

What a joke that is. Iran can get the heck out of Syria where they have no business being in the first place. This war would have been over by now had it not been for Iranian support in the whole scenario.

Mar 18, 2014 7:28am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Loucleve wrote:
itsmysayok

there would be no war if not for the meddling of saudi/israeli/neocon warmongers meddling.

now its spun out of control with jihadis from everywhere cutting off heads.

Mar 18, 2014 9:31am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Fromkin wrote:
How can anyone explain the UN not refering any US official to the ICC for its multiple killings for hegemony and greed?

The UN is a mafia organization led by the US government.

The only reason for this UN report is because the war for regime change that the US imposed on Syria has failed and now some UN stooges working for the US are engaging in media smear campaign against Syria to please their paymaster and hand them a pretext for a war they have decided since 2003 or even 2001.

The UN is a joke.

Saud Arabia has been saying publicly since the beginning of the conflict to give weapons(and has given heavy weapons)to Syrians hostile to the government and basically to anyone willing to go to Syria and kill innocent people but the UN has taken no action against Saud Arabia.

Let me be a bit cynical because the whole Syrian conflict is an exercice in cynicism.

If I would have gone to Saud Arabia and asked for weapons to kill Syrians, I would have been given weapons and a one way ticket to Syria(or to hell and 12 virgins). Had I survived, I could have gone to Youtube and publicize my atrocities and I would have been immune to ICC action. But had I been killed(and sent to my 12 virgins), Syrian officials, according to the UN logic, must be sent to ICC for killing me.

Because the KILLERS that NATO countries and Saud Arabia sent to kill in Syria have been defeated and killed by the Syrian army, the UN wants to refere the officials to the ICC. Makes no sense.

Syria is not signatory to the treaty of Rome which created this Kangaroo court. Neither is the US which created it by the way. Go figure.

The only way Syria could be refered to the ICC is by unanimous UNSC decision, which will never happen. Russia and China will never get on board with this UN fraud.

So the only purpose for this media smear campaign orchastrate by the likes of SAMANTHA POWER and VICTORIA NULAND is to give ground to the US and Nato to attack Syria since their proxies have failed to do the job.

The only people who committed atrocities in Syria are those terrorists that the US, NATO, Saud Arabia, Qatar sent to Syria to overthrow the LEGITIMATE government and kill anyone who disagreed with their actions. But no Al Qaida, Al Nusra, ISIL terrorist has been brought to the ICC.

Puppet Saud Arabian prince Bandar Bush is known to have recruited thousands of TERRORISTS who have messacred innocent civilians but the UN WILL NEVER take any action against ANY Saud Arabian official as long as Saud Arabia remains a supplier of cheap oil to the US/West and the biggest buyer of its/NATO’s weapons.

We are witnessing hypocrisy never seen before in human history. Does possessing nuclear weapons make countries immune to shame?

Mar 18, 2014 10:38am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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