UN latest report on Syria urges war crimes be referred to International Criminal Court
Ilaria Romano 22 February 2013

The most recent report consists of 131 pages of detailed evidence of war crimes and other abuses committed before mid-January 2013and is based on the reports and testimonies of 445 people who have fled Syria and were interviewed by the Commission’s investigators. The reports collected speak of crimes against humanity committed by the government and by opposition forces during the last six months. The report lists massacres, summary executions, torture, attacks on civilians, rape and child abuse. The report mentions Daraya and Harak where Assad’s militias killed over 600 people, among them women and children. In Harak in particular  the regular Syrian army and military and political intelligence units may have been accompanied by members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

There has been widespread and indiscriminate bombing and researchers quote a number of cases in which witnesses reported that those who saw mass killings were in turn executed for this very reason.  There were reportedly many summary executions in total violation of international law.

Seven massacres have been confirmed on the basis of information obtained through interviews. Of these massacres five were carried out by pro-government troops and two by those opposing the regime. Assad’s armed forces have carried out air raids across Syria, including on Aleppo, Damascus, Deraa, Homes and Idlib, with satellite images included in this report as evidence.

On this subject, the commission announced that work on mass killings has not yet been completed because government armed forces often targeted civilians to punish alleged opposition supporters. Entire districts in Damascus have been destroyed and even people queuing for bread and funeral processions have been targeted in various cities. On the other hand, insurgents have also committed crimes such as murder, torture, hostage-taking and enlisting minors under the age of fifteen.

In two years at least 60,000 people have been killed in Syria, mainly civilians trapped between the bombings and fighting on the ground. Carla Del Ponte, a member of the Commission of Inquiry, said, “After many months of investigations, it really is time to take action and I believe that the international community, and above all the Security Council, should decide to defer the situation in Syria to the judicial authorities.”

Del Ponte, a former chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia in 1999, joined the United Nations working group for Syria on September 28, 2012, after her name was suggested by the Swiss delegation to the UN. “We are trying to apply pressure,” she added, “because the violence in Syria is getting worse, aggravated by increasing sectarianism and the growing presence of foreign combatants. The conflict has become increasingly militarized and the weapons used are increasing in number and kind. The number of victims is increasing every day.”

On February 21st alone a series of explosions occurred one after the other devastating Damascus and causing dozens of deaths.

The final decision on whether or not to defer Syria to The Hague can only be taken by the Security Council because the country is not a member and has not signed the Statute of Rome, the 1998 treaty that created the International Criminal Court. Until now not a word has been on the subject also because of Russia’s firm opposition.

The work done in the last six months by the Commission, the members of which in addition to Del Ponte are the Brazilian jurist Paulo Pinheiro, who is its president, the American Karen Abuzayd and Vitit Muntarbhorn from Thailand, follows investigations started in 2011 and that emphasized the seriousness of what is taking place in Syria in a report published last September. On that occasion the UN’s Human Rights Council decided to extend the Commission’s mission to collect further evidence. Russia, China and Cuba voted against on that occasion as well.

Translated by Francesca Simmons

Photo: Explosion in Baba Amr, Homs (FreedomHouse, cc)