Conflict & Justice

UN identifies Syria war crimes suspects, including 'very high officials'


A rebel fighter shoots towards Syrian government forces through a window at a flat in the Salaheddine neighborhood of Aleppo on February 16, 2013. A new UN report says both rebels and government forces are responsible for war crimes during the ongoing conflict.



UN investigators say they have drawn up a list of people they suspect of committing war crimes in Syria.

The list includes not only those who allegedly carried out abuses but also Syrians in "leadership positions" who gave the orders for them to do so, according to a report presented today to the UN Human Rights Council.

The suspects' identities have not been made public, but some are "responsible for government policy," one investigator told Reuters: "People who are in the leadership of the military, for example."

Former UN prosecutor Carla del Ponte called for the "very high officials" to be referred to the International Criminal Court.

"We can't decide, but we are pressuring the international community to act, because it's time to act," she told a press conference.

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Based on hundreds of interviews with victims, witnesses and defectors, the report says that pro-government forces were responsible for indiscriminate shelling – including with cluster bombs – mass killing and other violence aimed at "spreading terror among the civilian population."

Rebels are accused of murder, torture, hostage-taking, involving children in the conflict and endangering ordinary Syrians by positioning military targets in civilian areas.

Yet, the report said, abuses by anti-government rebels did not "reach the intensity and scale of those committed by government forces and affiliated militia."

The investigators also expressed concern that violence was escalating due to heightened sectarian tensions and the involvement of foreign terrorist fighters, as well as a proliferation of weapons.

The European Union has debated whether to relax its ban on selling arms to Syria in order to funnel weapons to the rebels, according to the Associated Press. EU foreign ministers met today and decided to maintain the arms embargo, although with an amendment to allow "greater non-lethal support and technical assistance for the protection of civilians," according to a statement.

The decision to refer suspected war crimes to the International Criminal Court, meanwhile, lies with the UN Security Council – where members Russia and China have so far vetoed most proposals for action against President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

"The Security Council needs to come together and decide whether or not to refer the case to the ICC," one of the report's authors, Karen Konig AbuZayd, told Reuters. "I am not optimistic."