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Ending impunity UN approves Syrian war crimes investigation team

Switzerland's efforts to get the International Criminal Court to arbitrate on Syrian war crimes was vetoed in 2014


The United Nations General Assembly in New York has decided to create a special team to collect evidence of human rights abuses and war crimes in Syria with a view to initiating legal proceedings against offenders. The proposal was introduced by Liechtenstein and Qatar and co-sponsored by Switzerland. 

“According to Switzerland, a just and lasting peace is only possible if violations of international law are consistently pursued and punished,” the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Thursday. 

The new UN resolution to establish with war crimes team was adopted with 105 votes for, 15 against and 52 abstentions. It mandates the UN Secretary-General to provide, within 20 days, the framework conditions for the establishment of an independent investigation mechanism - “International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Those Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011”. 

The task of the new team will be the collection, consolidation, preservation and analysis of documents and evidence that point to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. This special team will cooperate closely with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, of which former Swiss Attorney General Carla del Ponte, is a member. 

The most vocal opponents of the resolution were Syria and Russia who described it as an overreach of the UN body’s powers and an interference into the internal affairs of a member state. A Swiss-launched initiative in 2014 to transfer accountability for Syrian war crimes to the International Criminal Court failed after being vetoed at the Security Council by Russia and China.

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