U.N. chief upholds Syria war inquiry
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.”