States urged to carve out path to Syrian peace

A car bomb killed six people and injured 20 in Homs, Syria on 17 March 2014 Keystone

As Syria’s war enters its fourth year, the head of a United Nations commission of inquiry into rights violations in the conflict-ridden nation says all states must urgently revitalise the deadlocked political talks to stop the endless horrors.

This content was published on March 18, 2014 - 16:56
Simon Bradley in Geneva,

“We cannot continue to sit for years in these rooms, writing reports and making speeches lamenting the blood that is running in Syria’s street,” Sergio Pinheiro told the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Tuesday during a debate on the commission’s latest Syria report.

The Brazilian said all states, particularly those with influence over the warring parties, must “carve out a path to peace”.

“A negotiated political solution must be pursued with renewed vigour both by the parties and by influential states. The Syrian government and the opposition forces must rise to the difficult challenge that reaching such a settlement requires. The regional and international community must take clear steps to revitalise the Geneva negotiations,” said the panel chair.

Pinheiro made his comments as UN-Arab League mediator Lakhdar Brahimi, who is overseeing the peace process, last weekend visited Syria’s close ally Iran to try to break the deadlock in political talks.

Following discussions with Brahimi on Monday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif declared that Tehran was prepared to help end the Syrian conflict.

“Iran is ready to help any logical attempts which are based on the realities of Syria, particularly those efforts made by the United Nations [which] are being pursued by Lakhdar Brahimi,” Zarif was quoted as saying by official news agency IRNA.

Shiite Iran has backed President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in its struggle against mostly Sunni rebels backed by Western powers and Arab nations.

Resume talks

The Syrian government and the main Western-backed opposition group met in Switzerland in January and February this year for the so-called Geneva II peace talks.

But the sessions ended without making any significant progress on issues such as terrorism or the establishment of a transitional governing body for Syria, agreed on by major powers at a Geneva conference in June 2012.

Iran was excluded from the Geneva talks after UN Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon reversed a last-minute invitation when Syria’s opposition said it would boycott if Iran took part.

In a parallel process last week, Ban called on Russia and Iran to encourage Syria to resume peace talks after the failure of the Geneva II process.

The United States and other Western nations say Iran must first support the idea of a transitional government in Syria before it can play a frontline role in peace talks. But Iran says rather than a transitional government, “the best solution is to organise free and fair elections inside Syria”.

Syria’s UN Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari recently declared that a presidential election would be held in June or July. Assad’s seven-year term as president officially expires on July 17 but he has not announced whether he will seek re-election.

In a closed speech to the UN General Assembly, Brahimi expressed fear that presidential elections in Syria “will slam the door to the Geneva negotiations for the foreseeable future”.

Perpetrators list

The UN panel investigating human rights abuses in Syria says it now has a list – made up of four smaller lists – of suspects on both sides said to be responsible for crimes such as hostage-taking, torture and executions who should be held accountable for their actions.

This list includes the heads of intelligence branches and detention facilities where detainees are tortured, names of military commanders who target civilians, airports from which barrel bomb attacks are planned and executed, and armed groups involved in attacking and displacing civilians.

In December, UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said the body of evidence pointed to the involvement of senior Syrian officials, including President Assad, in crimes against humanity and war crimes.

The list is part of information collected via more than 2,700 interviews, as well as documentary material.

The panel was established by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law since March 2011 in Syria and, whenever possible, to identify those responsible so that they can be prosecuted.

End of insertion

Fighting impunity

Swiss prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, a member of the UN commission of inquiry on Syria, told reporters in Geneva on Monday that it was extremely urgent to bring those responsible for crimes committed in Syria to justice.

“It is not possible to refer the case to the International Criminal Court due to a veto by the Russians at the UN Security Council. But I would say that due to the huge amount of crimes committed an ad hoc tribunal would be preferable. It could have its seat near Syria and that would facilitate the work,” said del Ponte.

She said she would be happy to be prosecutor of this tribunal, especially given the excellent work done by the commission and huge amount of evidence collected.

More than 130,000 people have been killed in the three-year war in Syria. Nearly nine million people – a third of the population – have now fled their homes. In addition to the 2.5 million refugees, there are an estimated 6.5 million internally displaced people inside Syria. Millions more live in enclaves surrounded by violence.

In compliance with the JTI standards

In compliance with the JTI standards

More: SWI certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative

You can find an overview of ongoing debates with our journalists here. Please join us!

If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at

Sort by

Change your password

Do you really want to delete your profile?

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Almost finished... We need to confirm your email address. To complete the subscription process, please click the link in the email we just sent you.

Discover our weekly must-reads for free!

Sign up to get our top stories straight into your mailbox.

The SBC Privacy Policy provides additional information on how your data is processed.