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Citing need to break ‘cycle of impunity,’ UN panel urges referral of Syria to ICC

A Syrian refugee holds his baby son in a refugee camp in Iraq.
Andrew McConnell/Panos
A Syrian refugee holds his baby son in a refugee camp in Iraq.

Citing need to break ‘cycle of impunity,’ UN panel urges referral of Syria to ICC

A culture of impunity continues to flourish inside Syria amid a conflict that has generated over four million refugees and hundreds of thousands of dead, the head of a United Nations-mandated Commission of Inquiry said today, urging the international community to step up efforts in bringing the four-year-long war to a close.

Addressing the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro warned that the Syrian civil war had intensified in its destructive scale as combatants used aerial and ground weapons “indiscriminately and disproportionately” and committed an alarming number of human rights violations.

The use of barrel bombs, the proliferation of small arms, the introduction of extremist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) into the fighting, and the surge in sexual violence has precipitated the country’s plunge into “darkness,” Mr. Pinheiro said, as he presented the Commission’s report.

“The way this war has been fought, in urban areas with devastating explosive weapons, raises many questions,” he continued. “The arming and funding of the warring parties, compounded by the flow of foreign fighters, fuel the illusion that military victory is possible. Impunity emboldens perpetrators of atrocities and weapons empower them.”

Mandated by the Council to investigate and record all violations of international human rights law, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria is also tasked with investigating allegations of crimes against humanity and war crimes, with its mandate recently expanded to include “investigations of all massacres.”

The Commission's latest report – released last month – charts the major trends and patterns of abuses perpetrated in the country from March 2011 to January 2015, stressing the need for urgent international action, particularly by States with influence over the warring parties, to find a political solution to the conflict in order to “stop grave violations of human rights and to break the intractable cycle of impunity.”

At the same time, Mr. Pinheiro reiterated the Commission’s dedication to “not only bringing forth the voice of victims but also to finding a path to justice for them” through a Security Council referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“Our aim has always been to advocate for and to support an effective remedy for victims,” he declared. “A coordinated accountability strategy and the will to implement it effectively are desperately needed.”

In an interview with UN Radio, Mr. Pinheiro admitted that the lack of movement in sending the case of Syria to the ICC was “lamentable,” particularly as all parties in the ongoing conflict were “not at all respecting the needs and protection of the civilian population.” In addition, he explained, the Government of Syria continued to create “great difficulties” for the Commission’s work.

“We don’t take the side of the Government or of the different parties. Our only side is the centrality of the victims in the conflict. And it is exactly that that we are trying to do in all the now nine reports that we have presented to the Human Rights Council,” Mr. Pinheiro said.

In his address to the Council, he stated that as the Syrian war entered its fifth year, it had become evident that the conflict was “a chronicle of missed opportunities on the part of States with political influence and the broader international community.”

“This Human Rights Council must demand that the international community unite to bring about an urgent diplomatic solution capable of ending the violence and delivering perpetrators to justice.”