UN investigators offered Tuesday to share information from secret lists of alleged Syria war criminals with prosecutors, to help bring perpetrators to justice.
The commission of inquiry on the human rights situation in Syria has been compiling lists of people suspected of committing war crimes in the brutal Syrian conflict for the past four years, but kept them secret for use in future prosecution.
The investigators have repeatedly appealed to a blocked UN Security Council to refer the cases to the International Criminal Court, but in vain.
Frustrated with the standstill, the head of the commission Paulo Pinheiro said Tuesday the investigators would share information from the lists with prosecutors in any country preparing cases.
Presenting the commission’s latest report on the situation in Syria to the UN Human Rights Council, Pinheiro urged national authorities preparing to try cases linked to the Syria conflict to get in touch.
But the investigators stressed to reporters they would only share information from the lists with “competent authorities” about “very specific” suspected perpetrators.
This “cannot be considered a fishing expedition,” Pinheiro said.
– Assad on the list? –
The commission has drawn up five lists of individuals and groups it believes are guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria over the course of the bloody conflict.
Until now it kept them locked in a safe in Geneva out of concern for due process, but the investigators hinted last month they might publish the lists to help stop an “exponential rise” in atrocities in the country.
But a range of countries warned making the names public could jeopardise the chance of future prosecution, a western diplomat said.
The investigators appear to have heeded that advice.
“We will not be releasing the list of names publicly now,” Pinheiro said, adding that the investigators instead were opting for “targeted disclosure.”
Countries can prosecute crimes committed in Syria under their national jurisdictions in cases where the perpetrator or victim is a citizen, or under universal jurisdiction, which allows very serious crimes to be prosecuted anywhere, the investigators said.
Three European countries have already made specific requests, commission member Karen Koning AbuZayd told reporters, without providing more information.
The investigators have refused to say whether Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or any of his close aides are on the list, but former UN rights chief Navi Pillay, who was safeguarding the names, said more than a year ago that “the evidence indicates responsibility at the highest level of government, including the head of state.”
In his presentation of the commission’s latest report on Syria’s conflict, which has already claimed more than 215,000 lives, Pinheiro meanwhile warned the violence “has grown ever more brutal.”
– Del Ponte heading to Syria –
The report details a horrifying array of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by the Syrian regime, the Islamic State group and other armed opposition groups.
Pinheiro urged all countries to stop funding and arming different sides in the conflict.
“Impunity emboldens perpetrators of atrocities and weapons empower them,” he said.
Syrian ambassador to the UN rights council Hussam Edin Aala slammed the report, claiming it was a “one-sided narrative … from unreliable sources.”
He questioned the credibility and working methods of the commission, which has never been permitted to enter Syria and which bases its findings on interviews with more than 3,800 victims and witnesses conducted either outside the country or via telephone or Skype.
One of the investigators, former war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte, has in the past been invited to visit Syria on her own, but the commission has until now refused, insisting all four investigators should go.
But del Ponte told reporters Tuesday that had changed and that she was awaiting confirmation from Damascus before booking her trip.
She also insisted that talks towards ending the Syrian crisis needed to include Assad.
“If we want to have success in this negotiation, of course the president of the state, who institutionally is Bashar al-Assad, you must negotiate with him,” she said.