September 17, 2012 / 8:48 AM / 5 years ago

UN refines list of Syrian war crimes suspects

Residents react after a Syrian Air Force fighter jet loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad fired missiles at Kafr Awaid, near Idlib September 16, 2012.Shaam News Network/Handout

GENEVA (Reuters) - United Nations human rights investigators said on Monday that they had drawn up a new secret list of Syrians and military units suspected of committing war crimes who should face criminal prosecution some day.

The independent investigators, led by Paulo Pinheiro, said they had gathered "a formidable and extraordinary body of evidence" and urged the U.N. Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

"A second confidential list of individuals and units believed to be responsible for violations is being provided to the High Commissioner of Human Rights," Pinheiro told the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Pinheiro presented the team's latest report, issued a month ago, saying Syrian government forces and allied militia have committed war crimes including murder and torture of civilians in what appears to be a state-directed policy.

He said there was an "increasing and alarming presence" of Islamist militants in Syria, some joining the rebels and others operating independently. Their presence tended to radicalise the rebels, who have also committed crimes, Pinheiro said.

He did not say if any Syrian rebels, as well as officials, were named on the list, which updated a confidential one his team submitted to U.N. rights chief Navi Pillay in February.

Syrian ambassador Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui accused Western and Arab powers of sending funds and weapons to support rebels conducting what he called a jihad or holy war against Damascus, and warned that the plan would backfire.

"The mercenaries are a time bomb that will explode later in the country and in the countries supporting them after they finish their terrorist mission in Syria," he declared.

The report should have named countries that "support the killers", which he said included the United States, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Libya.

SYRIA SAYS FOES BACK "JIHAD"

"One of the facts that we do not see in the report is that many international parties are working at increasing the crisis in Syria through instigating their media, through training mercenaries, Qaeda elements, training them and funding them and sending them to Syria for jihad. This through fatwas that were issued," Khabbaz Hamoui said in a speech.

Western countries are seeking yet another condemnation of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government at the session, as well as an extension of the commission of inquiry's mandate, which expires this month after a year in which it conducted more than 1,100 interviews with victims and witnesses.

Pinheiro said the list was being kept secret "due to the lower standard of proof employed by commissions of inquiry as compared to a court of law, the potential to undermine the right to the presumption of innocence and the absence of any accountability mechanism where a suspect can contest the allegations".

European Union ambassador Mariangela Zappia said: "The international community must ensure impunity will not prevail."

Turkey's ambassador Oguz Demiralp, describing the conflict in Syria as a "serious threat to international security", said:

"We want to address a message to those who have intentionally committed crimes in Syria, as well as those who have ordered, planned, instigated, incited, aided or abetted those crimes. They will be held accountable."

Human Rights Watch, which has repeatedly documented abuses by Syrian security forces, said on Monday that armed opposition groups had subjected detainees to ill-treatment and torture and committed extrajudicial or summary executions in Aleppo, Latakia and Idlib.

"Declarations by opposition groups that they want to respect human rights are important, but the real test is how opposition forces behave," said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director of the New York-based watchdog. "Those assisting the Syrian opposition have a particular responsibility to condemn abuses."

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and Tom Miles; Editing by Alistair Lyon

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