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

Tue Mar 18, 2014 4:04pm EDT
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By Stephanie Nebehay

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.   Continued...

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