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Photograph by Umit Bektas/Reuters.

U.N. Panel Threatens to Name Those It Accuses of War Crimes in Syria

U.N. Panel Threatens to Name Those It Accuses of War Crimes in Syria

UNITED NATIONS — A United Nations panel investigating potential war crimes in Syria’s civil war threatened on Friday to release a closely guarded list of names of those it accuses of having raped, tortured and carried out executions during the conflict. The move was part of an effort to increase pressure on world powers to pursue justice for what it calls crimes that “shock the conscience of humanity.”

The confidential lists — four have been compiled so far, and a fifth combining all of them is underway — contain scores of names, according to the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, and have been seen by no one other than its four members. The commission, in a report released Friday, said it was considering releasing the names at the annual meeting of the Human Rights Council next month, saying that not doing so “at this juncture of the investigation would be to reinforce the impunity that the commission was mandated to combat.”

The report, the ninth released by the commission, said the confidential list of names included “commanders of army and security units, including heads of detention facilities and other individuals operating under the command of the government or in its support, and commanders of nonstate armed groups, including the so-called ‘emirs’ of radical groups.”

What it would take for the panel to decide to publish the names remained unclear. Speaking to reporters here on Friday morning, the chairman of the commission, Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, said only that victims had the right to know and that he and his fellow commissioners would make a decision in the coming weeks. “We have not decided yet,” Mr. Pinheiro said before he and his fellow members went into a closed-door informal session of the Security Council.

Another member of the commission, Vitit Muntarbhorn, said the panel was “considering the pros and cons of whether or not to release the list.” He said the commission had refrained from revealing the names to this point in consideration of their due process rights.

The threat to release the names reflects not only the mounting frustration of the panel, which has spent the last three years chronicling suspected war crimes by all sides in the Syrian conflict. It also exerts new pressure in particular on Russia, which vetoed a draft Security Council resolution last spring to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. Russia backs the Syrian government and, as a permanent member of the Security Council, wields veto power.

“That perpetrators have, for more than four years, committed crimes that shock the conscience of humanity raises questions about the inadequacy of the response of the international community,” the commission concluded in the report released Friday.

Mr. Pinheiro, of Brazil, insisted that his commission’s mandate was “to not ask for the possible.”

“We must ask for what is right for the victims of Syria,” he said. “We are trying to mobilize the international community to consider all options on the table for accountability.”

Balkees Jarrah, a senior counsel at Human Rights Watch, said her organization welcomed the potential publication of names. “The ball is now in the Security Council’s court to ensure that there is a concrete process to prosecute perpetrators,” she said.

The Syrian ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar al-Jaafari, dismissed the commission and its report as biased.

“All this propaga​nda​ is aimed at diabolizing the Syrian government,” he said. ​

The commissioners have refused to say whether the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, is on the list of suspected perpetrators.

The 64-page report documents a litany of suspected international crimes committed from July 15, 2014, to Jan. 15, including the repeated government bombing of markets and residential areas in Aleppo, torture in government-run detention centers, and execution by stoning in areas controlled by the militant Islamic State.

The commission’s latest pressure comes as the United Nations envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, signaled the possibility of persuading the warring parties to agree to a temporary freeze in fighting in Aleppo. Mr. de Mistura said earlier this week that the government had agreed to a six-week truce just hours after it had begun an offensive to encircle opposition-held areas of Aleppo.

The commission’s tools of leverage are limited, and in its report Friday, it deployed more of them than it had previously. It recommended for the first time that the United Nations General Assembly adopt a measure calling on the Security Council to press for accountability of all perpetrators in the conflict. It also suggested that the Council consider a special tribunal devoted to serious crimes committed in Syria. Ultimately, both require the blessing of the Security Council, which has been deadlocked on Syria. China joined Russia in vetoing the international court measure, which was sponsored by France in May.

The prospects of gaining consensus on the Council for a special tribunal to try suspects seem slim. Still, Mark Lyall Grant, the British ambassador to the United Nations, suggested that the Security Council could again consider referring the Syrian situation to the International Criminal Court, given the Council’s shared concern for the rise of terrorism in Syria, while insisting that the government “bears the ultimate responsibility” for protecting its citizens. Britain supported the initial draft measure.

The report on Friday also pointed to paths to justice that do not require the Security Council’s blessing. The report calls on countries that belong to the International Criminal Court to refer its own citizens to the court, though the court is reserved for the most serious crimes, usually committed at the highest levels. The report asks countries to exercise the law of universal jurisdiction to prosecute anyone accused of grave crimes, like torture. In principle, the international court can also seek the Commission of Inquiry’s help in identifying suspects who are citizens of those countries.

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