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UN investigators offer to share names of Syria war crimes suspects


un flagUN investigators offered Tuesday to share names from secret lists of alleged Syria war criminals with prosecutors to help end the “culture of impunity” in the country.

The commission of inquiry on the human rights situation in Syria has been compiling lists of people suspected of committing war crimes in the brutal Syrian conflict for the past four years, but kept them secret for use in future prosecution.

The investigators have repeatedly appealed to a blocked UN Security Council to refer the cases to the International Criminal Court, but in vain.

Frustrated with the standstill, the head of the commission Paulo Pinheiro said Tuesday that the investigators would share names from the lists with prosecutors in any country preparing cases.

Presenting the commission’s latest report on the situation in Syria to the UN Human Rights Council, Pinheiro urged national authorities preparing to try cases linked to the conflict in the country to get in touch.

“We will share names and information about specific alleged perpetrators with state prosecution authorities that are preparing cases to be heard before a competent and impartial judiciary,” he said.

– Assad on the list? –

The commission has drawn up four lists of individuals and groups it believes are guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria over the course of the bloody conflict.

Until now it kept them locked in a safe in Geneva out of concern for due process, but the investigators hinted last month they were considering publishing the lists to help stop an “exponential rise” in atrocities in the country.

But the investigators received push-back on that idea from a range of countries, including some supporting the Syrian opposition, who warned that making the names public could jeopardise the chance of future prosecution, a western diplomat said.

The investigators appear to have heeded that advice.

“We will not be releasing the list of names publicly now,” Pinheiro told the council.

Instead, “we can best aid the pursuit of justice at this time through targeted disclosure,” he said.

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 names, said more than a year ago that “the evidence indicates responsibility at the highest level of government, including the head of state.”

In his presentation of the commission’s latest report on Syria’s conflict, which has already claimed more than 215,000 lives, Pinheiro meanwhile warned the violence “has grown ever more brutal.”

The report details a horrifying array of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by the Syrian regime, the Islamic State group and other armed opposition groups.

“A culture of impunity has flourished in Syria,” Pinheiro said, adding “the country has been plunged into darkness.”

Syrian ambassador to the UN rights council Hussam Edin Aala slammed the report, claiming it was a “one-sided narrative … from unreliable sources.”

He questioned the credibility and working methods of the commission, which has never been permitted to enter Syria and which bases its findings on interviews with more than 3,500 victims and witnesses conducted either outside the country or via telephone or Skype.

– Del Ponte to go to Syria –
One of the investigators, legendary former war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte of Switzerland, has been invited to visit Syria on her own, but the commission has until now refused, insisting all four investigators should go.

But del Ponte told Swiss public broadcaster RTS late Monday “things have changed… We have decided that I can go.”

She also insisted that talks towards ending the Syrian crisis needed to include Assad.

Fruitful negotiations, she said, “can only happen if Bashar al-Assad remains in power,” since the regime “still controls 60 percent of the Syrian population.”

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