UN human rights investigator Carla del Ponte yesterday said the “time has come” for the UN Security Council to refer war crimes in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for prosecution.
“We follow the chain of command to establish the responsibility of high political and military suspects for the commission of crimes,” she told a news briefing as the team released their latest report. “I think it is urgent that the ICC takes up this case of very high officials.”
Syrians in “leadership positions” who may be responsible for war crimes have been identified, along with units accused of perpetrating them, the investigators said yesterday.
Both government forces and armed rebels are committing war crimes, including killings and torture, spreading terror among civilians in a nearly two-year-old conflict, they said.
The investigators’ latest report, covering the six months to the middle of last month, was based on 445 interviews conducted abroad with victims and witnesses, as they have not been allowed into Syria.
The independent team, led by Brazilian Paulo Pinheiro, called on the Security Council to “act urgently to ensure accountability” for grave violations.
“The ICC is the appropriate institution for the fight against impunity in Syria. As an established, broadly supported structure, it could immediately initiate investigations against authors of serious crimes in Syria,” the 131-page report said.
“Individuals may also bear criminal responsibility for perpetuating the crimes identified in the present report. Where possible, individuals in leadership positions who may be responsible were identified alongside those who physically carried out the acts,” it said.
However, the team’s third list of suspects, building on lists drawn up in the past year, remains secret. It will be entrusted to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay upon expiry of its current mandate at the end of next month, the report said.
Pillay, a former judge at the ICC, said on Saturday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should be probed for war crimes and called for immediate action by the international community, including possible military intervention.
“The evidence collected sits in the safe in the office of the High Commissioner against the day it might be referred to a court and evidence would be examined by a prosecutor,” a European diplomat said.
Meanwhile, Britain, backed by a bare handful of EU allies, is fighting to lift an EU arms embargo barring the supply of weapons to the Syrian rebel coalition battling al-Assad.
Arriving for EU foreign ministers’ talks in Brussels yesterday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague called for changes to the existing arms ban “so that we can provide a broader range of support to the [Syrian] National Coalition.”
However, ministers began yesterday’s talks divided with time running out for a decision.
Additional reporting by AFP