U.N. war crimes investigators for Syria said on Tuesday they were ready to share names and details from their secret lists of suspects with any prosecution authorities preparing cases. The move could pave the way for perpetrators of killings, torture and other atrocities on all sides to be brought to account someday. The aim is to sidestep the U.N. Security Council, where Russia and China have prevented the issue being sent to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for prosecution.
Paulo Pinheiro, chairman of the United Nations' commission of inquiry, urged national authorities to contact the independent investigators who have compiled five confidential lists over nearly four years. Pinheiro and his team, who include former U.N. war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte, said last month they planned to publish names of suspects and push for new ways to bring them to justice, in a radical change of strategy. "We will not be releasing the list of names publicly now," Pinheiro told the U.N. Human Rights Council said on Tuesday. "We can best aid the pursuit of justice at this time through targeted disclosure. We will share names and information about specific alleged perpetrators with state prosecution authorities that are preparing cases to be heard before a competent and impartial judiciary," he said. Pinheiro said his team would share information from "our extensive database" to aid domestic investigations and prosecutions. Some countries have "universal jurisdiction", which means they can prosecute crimes committed by foreign nationals abroad.
The investigators say their lists, kept in a U.N. safe, include military and security commanders, the heads of detention facilities and commanders of insurgent groups. They are based on their interviews with hundreds of victims and witnesses. Syria's ambassador Hussam Edin Aala responded angrily at the 47-member forum to the investigators' move. "The commission's biased and selective approach and its continued accusations toward the government of Syria while turning a blind eye to crimes of terrorist groups such as the Nusra Front ... leads us to doubt the credibility, the motives."
In March of 2011, Syrians were emboldened enough to raise their voices against the dictatorship. However, the regime's response was not as peaceful as the protests. And the country was subsequently dragged into a deadly civil war after opposition groups took up arms against the government. The opposition groups have also been divided internally. While moderate opposition groups like the Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) were struggling for a democratic Syria where all religious and political groups would be free to exist, radical elements like al-Qaida's Syrian branch Nusra Front or the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) aimed to establish a new Syria, ruled by an extremist religious jurisprudence. While the war continued among the groups and the regime forces, and other groups loyal to the regime like Iran-backed Hezbollah, the U.S. established an international coalition against ISIS on September after an American citizen was beheaded.
The Syrian civil war entered its fifth year and has caused the death of more than 200,000 people and at least 60,000 are missing. The war also displaced nearly 10 million people. While the international and regional powers continue endless discussions, the regime does not only use conventional weapons but also chemical weapons. The Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPWC) says it has evidence of the use of chlorine gas in repeated attacks by regime forces in Syria. The OPWC said there had been a "spate of new allegations" of chlorine attacks. The regime agreed to destroy its chemical weapons a year ago following global outrage over a sarin gas attack in Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, in August 2013 that killed hundreds – the worst attack of its kind for quarter of a century. However, opposition groups claim the regime has not handed over all ofs its chemical stockpile and still uses chemical weapons against its people.