United Nations investigators have accused both sides in the battle for Aleppo of committing war crimes. They say the Syrian government deliberately bombed an aid convoy last September. In an interview with Swiss television, UN panel member Carla Del Ponte called for President Bashar al-Assad to be brought to justice.
The 37-page report by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria - released on Wednesday as Syrian peace talks continue in Geneva - covers the July-December 2016 period and capture of Aleppo by forces supporting the Syrian regime. It describes in detail how Syrian and Russian forces conducted daily air strikes on rebel-held eastern Aleppo, killing hundreds and destroying hospitals, schools and homes.
Opposition groups also shelled government-controlled western Aleppo, killing and injuring dozens, the report said. They prevented civilians from fleeing besieged eastern Aleppo, using them as human shields - a war crime.
The UN also accused Damascus of repeatedly using chemical weapons and cluster munitions. But investigators could not say whether both Syrian and Russian forces used them in Aleppo, or only one had, because of similarities in the weapons and aircraft used.
At least 5,000 pro-government forces had encircled eastern Aleppo in a "surrender or starve" tactic.
The investigators accused the Syrian government of carrying out a "meticulously planned and ruthlessly carried out" air strike on a UN and Syrian Red Crescent convoy at Orum al-Kubra, in rural western Aleppo on September 19 that killed 14 aid workers. A previous UN inquiry had been unable to determine who conducted the strike.
The UN panel says it is ready to share its confidential list of suspected war criminals from all sides with a new UN body on Syria being set up in Geneva to prepare criminal prosecutions. The panel levelled extensive criticism at the government of Bashar al-Assad, which was strongly supported by Russian jets and Iranian-backed militias throughout the campaign.
Former Swiss prosecutor and UN panel member Carla Del Ponte called for Assad to be brought to justice for his involvement.
“That’s six years now that he has been responsible for a large number of civilian deaths. We must bring Assad to justice. He is one of the worst criminals,” she told Swiss television, RTS, on Wednesday.
The former Ticino and Swiss public prosecutor is known for her frank talking and tenacity.
In 1999 she succeeded Louise Arbour as chief prosecutor of the international criminal tribunals for Rwanda and the ex-Yugoslavia. She stepped down in 2007. She has also worked as a Swiss ambassador.
In 2012 she was appointed to the UN commission investigating war crimes in Syria alongside three other investigators.