Time to refer Syrian war crimes to ICC: U.N. inquiry

Mon Feb 18, 2013 2:44pm EST
 
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By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - United Nations investigators said on Monday that Syrian leaders they had identified as suspected war criminals should face the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The investigators urged the U.N. Security Council to "act urgently to ensure accountability" for violations, including murder and torture, committed by both sides in an uprising and civil war that has killed about 70,000 people since March 2011.

"Now really it's time ... We have a permanent court, the International Criminal Court, who would be ready to take this case," Carla del Ponte, a former ICC chief prosecutor who joined the U.N. team in September, told a news briefing in Geneva.

But because Syria is not party to the Rome Statute that established the ICC, the only way the court can investigate the situation is if it receives a referral from the Security Council. Russia, Assad's long-standing ally and a permanent veto-wielding member of the council, has opposed such a move.

"We cannot decide. But we pressure the international community to decide because it's time to act," del Ponte said.

Brazilian expert Paulo Pinheiro, who leads the U.N. inquiry set up in 2011, said: "We are in very close dialogue with all the five permanent members and with all the members of the Security Council, but we don't have the key that will open the path to cooperation inside the Security Council."

His team of some two dozen experts is tracing the chain of command in Syria to establish criminal responsibility and build a case for eventual prosecution.

"Of course we were able to identify high-level perpetrators," del Ponte said, adding that these were people "in command responsibility...deciding, organizing, planning and aiding and abetting the commission of crimes".   Continued...

 
Member of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria Carla del Ponte addresses a news conference at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva February 18, 2013. Syrians in "leadership positions" who may be responsible for war crimes have been identified, along with units accused of perpetrating them, United Nations investigators said on Monday. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse