Syrian human rights violators 'should face court'

Carla del Ponte says human rights violators in Syria should face the ICC Reuters

The International Criminal Court (ICC) should take on the cases of “very high officials” who have perpetrated human rights violations in Syria, according to Carla del Ponte, a member of a special United Nations Commission of Inquiry (CoI).

This content was published on February 18, 2013 minutes and agencies

Del Ponte, a former Swiss federal prosecutor who also served as prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, was speaking at the presentation in Geneva on Monday of the latest report drawn up by the UN Syria CoI.

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

The report is based on 445 interviews with victims and witnesses outside Syria compiled over the course of six months up to the middle of January. The investigators were not allowed to conduct research inside the country.

“Both pro and anti-government forces have become increasingly violent and reckless with human life,” the report found.

It speaks of arbitrary arrests, “murder, torture, rape, enforced disappearance and other inhumane acts” committed by government forces and its allied militia.

“Committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack, they may constitute crimes against humanity,” it says.

It  notes that as they have gained control over territory, anti-government forces have committed “murder, torture, arbitrary arrest and hostage-taking, all of which may constitute war crimes”.

Although del Ponte did not name names, a confidential list of individuals and units believed to be responsible for crimes will be submitted to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in March.

It is up to the UN Security Council to refer Syria's case to the ICC.

"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," said commission chairman Paulo Pinheiro of Brazil.

For its part, Switzerland welcomed the call for the cases to be prosecuted by the ICC.

A statement issued by the foreign ministry said the recommendation corresponded to a demand made by Switzerland in January in a letter to the UN Security Council, that was backed by 57 countries.

The commission’s mandate expires at the end of March, but the foreign ministry statement said Switzerland will advocate prolonging in at the next session of the Human Rights Council.

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