UN ready to release Syria war criminals list
The commission has not revealed whether Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is on the list or not. (AFP/File)
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UN investigators said Friday they were prepared to publish secret lists of alleged war criminals in Syria to help stem an "exponential rise" in rights violations in the war-ravaged country, AFP reported.
A commission of inquiry said publishing the list it has been drawing up throughout Syria's nearly four-year civil war would put "alleged perpetrators on notice" and could "serve to maximize the potential deterrent effect" and "help to protect people at risk of abuse."
The four-member commission, led by Brazilian Paolo Pinheiro, has drawn up four lists of people and groups it believes are guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity, but has until now kept them secret out of concern for due process, according to AFP.
But the investigators said they were ready to shift their approach after four years of efforts to shed light on atrocities.
"We are trying to convince, to mobilize the international community to consider all options on the table for accountability and not to ignore the horrific, the abominable situation of the victims of this war," Pinheiro told reporters at UN headquarters in New York Friday.
More than 210,000 people have been killed in Syria and half of the population has been forced to flee their homes since the conflict erupted in March 2011.
"Not to publish the names at this juncture of the investigation would be to reinforce the impunity that the commission was mandated to combat," the commission said in a report quoted by AFP.
The investigators are set to hand over a fifth list of suspected war criminals to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva next month, and Pinheiro said he expects the council to decide during a March 17 meeting whether to publish the names.
The lists include a number of unit commanders and armed group leaders who were identified as perpetrators on the basis of their command responsibility.
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 list, said more than a year ago that "the evidence indicates responsibility at the highest level of government, including the head of state."
Publishing the names might help halt what the report described as "an exponential rise in the perpetration of war crimes, crimes against humanity and human rights violations".
In its ninth report, the commission detailed a horrifying array of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by the Syrian regime, Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists and other armed opposition groups.
The commission has never gained access to Syria but has collected thousands of witness accounts, satellite photographs and documents to build up a case of human rights violations.
The investigators expressed deep frustration at what it deemed an inadequate international response to the atrocities taking place on a daily basis in Syria.
"It is unconscionable that Syrians should continue to suffer as they have for the last four years and have to live in a world where only limited attempts have been made to return Syria to peace, and to seek justice for the victims," Pinheiro said in a statement.
A report released more than a year ago, in January of 2014, offered evidence that Syrian government officials committed serious war crimes.
A team of internationally renowned war crimes prosecutors and forensic experts said they found "direct evidence" of "systematic torture and killing" by the Assad regime.
The experts who authored the report said the evidence in the photos would stand up in an international criminal tribunal.