U.N. chief up­holds Syria war in­quiry

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - EDITH M. LEDERER

UNITED NA­TIONS — Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral An­to­nio Guter­res sup­ports the work of the United Na­tions’ in­de­pen­dent Com­mis­sion of In­quiry on Syria in gath­er­ing ev­i­dence of al­leged crimes against civil­ians dur­ing the 6½-year civil war and re­grets the res­ig­na­tion of Carla del Ponte, the U.N. said Mon­day.

Del Ponte an­nounced she was re­sign­ing from the com­mis­sion in frus­tra­tion at the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil’s in­ac­tion to hold crim­i­nals ac­count­able in war-bat­tered Syria, where she said “ev­ery­one is bad.” In com­ments pub­lished Sun­day by the Swiss mag­a­zine Blick, she crit­i­cized Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad’s gov­ern­ment, his op­po­nents and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Du­jar­ric said the sec­re­tary­gen­eral con­sid­ers ac­count­abil­ity “crit­i­cal” and “sup­ports the con­tin­ued work of the com­mis­sion as an im­por­tant and in­te­gral part of the ac­count­abil­ity process.”

As for del Ponte, he said Guter­res “is grate­ful for her ser­vice and her con­tri­bu­tion to the im­por­tant work of the com­mis­sion, also as a tire­less ad­vo­cate for the cause of ac­count­abil­ity through­out her ca­reer.”

Del Ponte, who gained fame as the pros­e­cu­tor for the in­ter­na­tional tri­bunals that in­ves­ti­gated atroc­i­ties in Rwanda and Yu­goslavia, has re­peat­edly de­cried the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil’s re­fusal to ap­point a sim­i­lar court for the Syr­ian con­flict.

Per­ma­nent mem­bers Rus­sia, a key backer of As­sad’s gov­ern­ment, and ally China ve­toed a U.N. res­o­lu­tion in May 2014 to re­fer the sit­u­a­tion in Syria to the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court, the world’s per­ma­nent war crimes tri­bunal.

“Be­lieve me, the ter­ri­ble crimes com­mit­ted in Syria I nei­ther saw in Rwanda nor ex-Yu­goslavia,” del Ponte told Blick. “We thought the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity had learned from Rwanda. But no, it learned noth­ing.”

“I give up. The states in the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil don’t want jus­tice,” Del Ponte said. “I can’t any longer be part of this com­mis­sion which sim­ply doesn’t do any­thing.”

The com­mis­sion was set up in Au­gust 2011 by the Geneva-based Hu­man Rights Coun­cil to in­ves­ti­gate crimes in Syria, no mat­ter who com­mit­ted them. Since then, it has com­piled thou­sands of in­ter­views and keeps a list of sus­pected war crim­i­nals un­der lock and key at the Geneva of­fices of the U.N. High Com­mis­sioner for Hu­man Rights.

Del Ponte, who was ap­pointed to the com­mis­sion in Septem­ber 2012, said she will take part in the com­mis­sion’s Septem­ber meet­ing, her last.

The com­mis­sion is­sued a state­ment say­ing it was aware since mid-June of del Ponte’s plans to leave and in­sisted that its work “must con­tinue” to help bring per­pe­tra­tors in Syria to jus­tice.

Del Ponte’s res­ig­na­tion shrinks the com­mis­sion to two mem­bers — chair Paulo Ser­gio Pin­heiro and Karen AbuZayd.

Du­jar­ric said “the com­mis­sion will con­tinue its work” and ques­tions about a re­place­ment for del Ponte should go to the Hu­man Rights Coun­cil and the re­main­ing com­mis­sion mem­bers.

He stressed that ac­count­abil­ity takes time.

“In­for­ma­tion needs to be gath­ered in a way that will stand up wher­ever and what­ever cir­cum­stances peo­ple will have to face jus­tice,” Du­jar­ric said. “It’s some­thing we can un­der­stand is deeply frus­trat­ing to the vic­tims first and fore­most.”

With Se­cu­rity Coun­cil ac­tion blocked, the U.N. Gen­eral As­sem­bly, where there are no ve­toes, voted last De­cem­ber to es­tab­lish an in­ves­tiga­tive body that will as­sist in doc­u­ment­ing and pros­e­cut­ing the most se­ri­ous vi­o­la­tions of in­ter­na­tional law in Syria, in­clud­ing pos­si­ble war crimes and crimes against hu­man­ity.

Du­jar­ric noted that the new head of this body, French judge Cather­ine Marchi-Uhel, who was the om­buds­man con­sid­er­ing ap­peals by in­di­vid­u­als and en­ti­ties sub­ject to U.N. sanc­tions for links to al-Qaida and the Is­lamic State ex­trem­ist group, starts work to­day.

“It is no se­cret to any­one that the dead­lock in the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, I think, has been a source of frus­tra­tion not only for the sec­re­tary- gen­eral but for others in­side the U.N.,” Du­jar­ric said. “There’s no get­ting around the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, and I think we have re­peat­edly called for greater unity of pur­pose from Se­cu­rity Coun­cil mem­bers on the is­sue of Syria.”

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