UN human rights investigators said yesterday they had drawn up a new secret list of Syrians and Syrian military units suspected of committing war crimes who ought to be prosecuted.
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 confidential list his team submitted to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights 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, including the murder and torture of civilians, in what appears to be a state-directed policy.
More than 20,000 people have been killed in the 18-month-old conflict, 1.2 million are uprooted within Syria and more than 250,000 have fled abroad, the UN says.
Food, water and medical supplies have run short in areas subjected to Syrian government air strikes, shelling and sieges, 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, some joining the rebels and others operating independently.
They tended to radicalize the rebels, who have also committed war crimes, the Brazilian expert said.
It would be “improper” to make public the list of suspects because they were entitled to the presumption of innocence and no mechanism to hold perpetrators responsible was in place yet where allegations could be contested, Pinheiro said.
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 not allow us access to Syria,” he said.
Syrian Ambassador Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui accused Western and Arab powers of arming and funding rebels conducting a jihad, or holy war, against Damascus, and said that this would 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,” he said.
The report should have named countries that “support the killers,” which he said included the US, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Libya.
“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, al-Qaeda elements, training them and funding them and sending them to Syria for jihad. This [is done] through fatwas that were issued,” Khabbaz Hamoui said during the four-hour debate.
Syrian ally Russia said rebels were committing “terrorist acts,” including executions.