U.N. creates team to prepare cases on Syria war crimes

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday voted to establish a special team to “collect, consolidate, preserve and analyze evidence” as well as to prepare cases on war crimes and human rights abuses committed during the conflict in Syria.

A member of forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad stands with a civilian on the rubble of the Carlton Hotel, in the government controlled area of Aleppo, Syria. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

The General Assembly adopted a Liechtenstein-drafted resolution to establish the independent team with 105 in favor, 15 against and 52 abstentions. The team will work in coordination with the U.N. Syria Commission of Inquiry.

Liechtenstein U.N. Ambassador Christian Wenaweser told the General Assembly ahead of the vote: “We have postponed any meaningful action on accountability too often and for too long.”

He said inaction has sent “the signal that committing war crimes and crimes against humanity is a strategy that is condoned and has no consequences.”

The special team will “prepare files in order to facilitate and expedite fair and independent criminal proceedings in accordance with international law standards, in national, regional or international courts or tribunals that have or may in the future have jurisdiction over these crimes.”

The U.N. resolution calls on all states, parties to the conflict, and civil society groups to provide any information and documentation to the team.

“The establishment of such a mechanism is a flagrant interference in the internal affairs of a U.N. member state,” Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari told the General Assembly before the vote.

Syrian allies Russia and Iran also spoke against the resolution.

The U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria was established by the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council in 2011 to investigate possible war crimes.

The Commission of Inquiry, which says it has a confidential list of suspects on all sides who have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity, has repeatedly called for the U.N. Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.

Russia and China vetoed a bid by western powers to refer the conflict in Syria to The Hague-based court in 2014.

A crackdown by Assad on pro-democracy protesters in 2011 led to civil war and Islamic State militants have used the chaos to seize territory in Syria and Iraq. Half of Syria’s 22 million people have been uprooted and more than 400,000 killed.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols Editing by G Crosse and James Dalgleish