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UN sets up panel to gather evidence of war crimes in Syria

The General Assembly resolution was co-sponsored by Ireland and 57 other countries.

Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Moallem addresses the UN General Assembly in September.
Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Moallem addresses the UN General Assembly in September.
Image: AP/Press Association Images

THE UN GENERAL Assembly has agreed to set up a panel to gather evidence on war crimes in Syria, taking a first step toward prosecuting those responsible for atrocities in the nearly six-year war.

A resolution on establishing the investigative mechanism was adopted in the 193-nation assembly by a vote of 105 to 15, with 52 abstentions.

The panel will work closely with the UN Commission of Inquiry which has submitted several reports detailing atrocities committed during the war that has killed more than 310,000 people.

Civil society groups have also been compiling documents, lists of witnesses and video footage that could one day be used in a court of law.

The measure, prepared by Liechtenstein was co-sponsored by 58 countries, including Ireland, the United States, France, Britain, Italy and Germany as well as regional powers Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Addressing the assembly, Liechtenstein’s Ambassador Christina Wenaweser said the resolution would address the Security Council’s failure to ensure those responsible for serious crimes face justice.

United Nations Syria The UN Security Council votes unanimously this week to send humanitarian aid to Syria. But Russia and China are opposed to a war crimes probe. Source: Seth Wenig/PA

Veto

In 2014, China and Russia – Syria’s main ally – blocked a request by the council that the International Criminal Court begin investigations of war crimes in Syria.

“We are finally taking one meaningful step to meet the expectations that we have failed for such a long time,” Wenaweser said.

Syria’s Ambassador Bashar Jafaari slammed the measure, saying it was contrary to the UN charter and a “flagrant interference in the internal affairs of a UN member-state.”

China, Russia and Iran also opposed this latest measure.

The new resolution tasks the UN secretary-general to report within 20 days on the establishment of the new panel, which will be funded by the United Nations.

It will set up an “international, impartial and independent mechanism to assist in the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the most serious crimes” in Syria since March 2011, when the conflict began.

Mideast Israel Syria Syrian rebels at an abandoned UN base at Syria's Quneitra border crossing with the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. Source: Ariel Schalit/PA

Violations

According to the draft text, the panel will:

collect, consolidate, preserve and analyze evidence of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights violations and abuses and prepare files in order to facilitate and expedite fair and independent criminal proceedings.

Human rights groups applauded the move.

Balkees Jarrah, senior international justice counsel at Human Rights Watch, said:

By establishing the investigative mechanism, the General Assembly is helping pave the road to accountability after years of unchecked atrocities.

“Perpetrators now know that evidence of their misdeeds will be collected to hasten the day when they find themselves in the dock.”

- © AFP, 2016, with reporting from Darragh Peter Murphy.

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