Rebel fighters carry their weapons as they take positions in the town of Kafr Nabudah, in Hama province, Syria. (Reuters Photo/Ammar Abdullah)

Pursuing War Criminals in Syria Should Not Wait for War End: UN


MARCH 15, 2016

Geneva. United Nations human rights investigators on Syria said on Tuesday that preparing prosecutions against war criminals should not be delayed until the end of the conflict, now entering its sixth year.

The UN Commission of Inquiry, which has documented atrocities committed by all sides in the war, has compiled a confidential list of suspects and begun providing judicial assistance to authorities investigating foreign fighters.

President Vladimir Putin announced on Monday that "the main part" of Russia's armed forces in Syria would start to withdraw, telling his diplomats to step up the push for peace as UN-mediated talks resumed in Geneva between the Syrian government and opposition.

"Now for the first time, there is hope of an end in sight," Paulo Pinheiro told the UN Human Rights Council as UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura carried out his mediation efforts in the same building.

"The adoption of measures that lay the ground for accountability need not and should not wait for a final peace agreement to be reached," Pinheiro told the forum, flanked by co-commissioners Carla del Ponte and Vitit Muntarbhorn.

Serious violations continue, with thousands detained and tortured, many dying in custody, he said. Islamic State — which is not part of the cessation of hostilities — continues to use suicide bombs and has more than 3,000 Yazidi women as sexual slaves, he added.

Pinheiro urged the government and opposition to agree to confidence-building measures including unconditional and immediate release of all prisoners arbitrarily detained and to set up a mechanism to trace those missing.

Syrian Ambassador Hussam Aala said that rebel groups were targeting residential areas in Damascus and Aleppo with shelling and rockets, depriving civilians of water, and using medical facilities as command centers.

These "terrorist" groups were backed by Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, he said.

"The Syrian government continues to send relief to all areas in need without discrimination...We have been responsible in abiding by the cessation of hostilities in order to preserve Syrian blood," he told the forum.