Last Updated: Thu Oct 25, 2012 12:29 pm (KSA) 09:29 am (GMT)

U.N. investigators want to identity key figures behind Syria crimes

Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria Paulo Pinheiro (L) arrives with members Carla del Ponte (2R) Karen Koning Abuzayd (R) and Vitit Muntarbhorn for a news conference at the United Nations in Geneva October 25, 2012.  (Reuters)
Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria Paulo Pinheiro (L) arrives with members Carla del Ponte (2R) Karen Koning Abuzayd (R) and Vitit Muntarbhorn for a news conference at the United Nations in Geneva October 25, 2012. (Reuters)

Carla del Ponte, a member of a U.N. commission investigating rights abuses in Syria, said Thursday she intended to identify top officials behind atrocities in the war-torn country.

“My principal task will be to continue the investigation ... and to determine the high-ranking political and military figures (responsible for) these crimes,” AFP reported the former war crimes prosecutor as saying.

Ponte told reporters in Geneva that “crimes against humanity and war crimes for sure” were being committed in Syria and said her U.N. team is trying to set up a visit to Damascus.

Del Ponte, who was yanked out of retirement late last month to join the U.N.’s Commission of Inquiry on Syria, said she would participate in the general investigation of tracking and documenting serious rights violations, but that she would perhaps focus most on determining “the high-ranking political and military figures (responsible for) these crimes.”

Paulo Pinheiro, the Brazilian head of the commission, meanwhile said the investigators had sent a letter to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad seeking access to the country.

“We expect that he will accept us in Damascus,” he said.

The commission was created a just over a year ago, but has yet to actually gain access to Syria. It has however conducted more than 1,000 interview with perpetrators and victims in the conflict, and has previously reported that war crimes appeared to have been committed by both the regime and, to a lesser extent, rebel forces.

Violence continues

President Bashar al-Assad’s forces fired heavy tank and rocket barrages at a Damascus suburb on Thursday, killing five people, opposition activists said, a day before a U.N.-brokered ceasefire is due to come into force.

The fighting in Harasta, just northeast of Damascus, erupted after anti-Assad fighters overran army roadblocks, Reuters reported.

On Wednesday an Arab League mediator for the Syrian conflict told the U.N. Security Council that Assad has accepted a ceasefire for the Muslim ‘Eid’ holiday starting on Friday.

An announcement by the Syrian authorities was expected later.

A previous ceasefire arrangement in April collapsed within days, with both sides accusing the other of breaking it.

In contrast to the Libya crisis last year, the West has shown little appetite to arm the Syrian rebels, worried that weapons would fall into the hands of Islamic militants.

Russia, which has backed Assad through the conflict, sold his government $1 billion worth of weapons last year and has made clear it would oppose an arms embargo in the U.N. Security Council.

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