February 19, 2013 / 12:15 PM / 4 years ago

ICC war crime requests for Syria "untimely" - Russian official

A man walks past a signpost in a neighbourhood filled with damaged buildings and debris in the Khaldiyeh area of Homs February 19, 2013.Yazan Homsy

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A senior Russian official indicated on Tuesday that Moscow would not immediately back calls to refer suspected war criminals in Syria to the International Criminal Court for prosecution.

United Nations investigators said on Monday that Syrian leaders they had identified as suspected war criminals should face the ICC.

But Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov, whose country is an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, told a news conference that this was "not the path we should follow ... at this stage it would be untimely and unconstructive."

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, where Moscow is a permanent member.

Gatilov said ending violence was the immediate priority in Syria and that allegations of human rights violations should not be directed only at one side.

Moscow has blocked three U.N. Security Council resolutions that would have increased pressure on Damascus to end the violence which has seen nearly 70,000 people killed in an uprising that is almost two years old.

The investigators on Monday urged the U.N. Security Council to "act urgently to ensure accountability" for violations, including murder and torture, committed by both sides.

Reporting By Gabriela Baczynska, Writing by Thomas Grove, Editing by Timothy Heritage

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