Nelson Mandela: A life in pictures
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
United Nations investigators said on Monday that Syrian leaders they had identified as suspected war criminals should face the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The investigators urged the UN Security Council to “act urgently to ensure accountability” for violations, including murder and torture, committed by both sides in an uprising and civil war that has killed about 70,000 people since March 2011.
“Now really it’s time … We have a permanent court, the International Criminal Court, who would be ready to take this case,” Carla del Ponte, a former ICC chief prosecutor who joined the U.N. team in September, told a news briefing in Geneva.
But because Syria is not party to the Rome Statute that established the ICC, the only way the court can investigate the situation is if it receives a referral from the Security Council. Russia, Assad’s long-standing ally and a permanent veto-wielding member of the council, has opposed such a move.
Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told a news conference that this was “not the path we should follow … at this stage it would be untimely and unconstructive.”
“We cannot decide. But we pressure the international community to decide because it’s time to act,” del Ponte said.
Brazilian expert Paulo Pinheiro, who leads the U.N. inquiry set up in 2011, said: “We are in very close dialogue with all the five permanent members and with all the members of the Security Council, but we don’t have the key that will open the path to cooperation inside the Security Council.”
His team of some two dozen experts is tracing the chain of command in Syria to establish criminal responsibility and build a case for eventual prosecution.
“Of course we were able to identify high-level perpetrators,” del Ponte said, adding that these were people “in command responsibility…deciding, organising, planning and aiding and abetting the commission of crimes”.
She said it was urgent for the Hague-based war crimes tribunal to take up cases of “very high officials”, but did not identify them, in line with the inquiry’s practice.
“We have crimes committed against children, rape and sexual violence. We have grave concerns. That is also one reason why an international body of justice must act because it is terrible.”
The inquiry’s third roster of suspects, building on lists drawn up in the past year, remains secret. It will be entrusted to U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay upon expiry of its mandate at the end of March, the report said.
Pillay, a former ICC judge, said on Saturday Assad should be investigated for war crimes, and called for outside action on Syria, including possible military intervention.
The U.N. report said the ICC was the appropriate institution for the fight against impunity in Syria. “As an established, broadly supported structure, it could immediately initiate investigations against authors of serious crimes in Syria.”
Government forces have carried out shelling and air strikes across Syria including Aleppo, Damascus, Deraa, Homs and Idlib, the 131-page report said, citing corroborating satellite images.
“Government forces and affiliated militias have committed extra-judicial executions, breaching international human rights law. This conduct also constitutes the war crime of murder. Where murder was committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population, with knowledge of that attack, it is a crime against humanity,” the report said.
Those forces have targeted bakery queues and funeral processions to spread “terror among the civilian population”.
Rebels fighting to topple Assad have also committed war crimes including murder, torture, hostage-taking and using children under age 15 in hostilities, the U.N. report said.
“They continue to endanger the civilian population by positioning military objectives inside civilian areas” and rebel snipers had caused “considerable civilian casualties”, it said.
George Sabra, a vice president of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, asked about the U.N. report, told Reuters at a conference in Stockholm: “We condemn all kind of crimes, regardless who did it.
“We can’t ignore that some mistakes have been made and maybe still happen right now. But nobody also can ignore that the most criminal file is that of the regime.”
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Mandela is accompanied by his former wife Winnie, moments after his release from prison February 11, 1990 after serving 27 years in jail. (Reuters)
In this February, 1990 photo, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, gives the black power salute to the 120,000 supporters packing Soccer City stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg. (AP Photo)
Nelson Mandela showed his passport in February 19, 1990, shortly after his release from prison. The South African government authorized an application for himself and his wife Winnie - (Juda Ngwenya / Reuters)
In this July 27, 1991 photo, Cuban President Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela gesture during the celebration of the "Day of the Revolution" in Matanzas, Cuba. (AP Photo)
In this July 4, 1993 photo, President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela listen during Fourth of July ceremonies in Philadelphia during which Clinton presented the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to the African National Congress president and South African President F.W. de Klerk. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)
President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela acknowledges cheers from the crowd as he prepares to unveil the ANC's official election platform in 1994. (AP Photo/David Brauchli)
African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela greeted residents of Mmabatho in March 1994, during a visit after the nominal homeland came under South African control following the ousting of the former President Lucas Mangope. (Reuters/Howard Burditt)
South African President Nelson Mandela smiles with actor Sidney Poitier at a press conference in Cape Town in 1996. Poitier played Mandela in the film "One Man, One Vote" (AP Photo / Sasa Kralj)
South African President Nelson Mandela waves to crowds as he sits next to Queen Elizabeth II in a an open carriage on the way to Buckingham Palace.(AP/Louisa Buller)
Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly Cyril Ramaphosa, left, holds up a copy of the country's constitution which was signed by President Nelson Mandela, in December 1996. (AP Photo / Adil Bradlow / POOL)
Nelson Mandela at a news conference in Johannesburg in February 2000. (AP Photo / Denis Farrell)
South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar, right, received the Rugby World Cup trophy from President Nelson Mandela also wearing a South African rugby shirt, after South Africa defeated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup , in 1995. (AP Photo / Ross Setford)