By Stephanie Nebehay
Reuters dispatch, February 18, 2013
"United Nations investigators said on Monday that Syrian leaders they had identified as suspected war criminals should face the International Criminal Court (ICC). The investigators urged the UN Security Council to 'act urgently to ensure accountability' for violations, including murder and torture, committed by both sides in a conflict that has killed an estimated 70,000 people since a revolt against President Bashar al-Assad began in March, 2011. 'Now really it's time ... We have a permanent court, the International Criminal Court, who would be ready to take this case,' Carla del Ponte, a former ICC chief prosecutor who joined the UN team in September, told a news briefing in Geneva. The inquiry, led by Brazilian Paulo Pinheiro, is tracing the chain of command to establish criminal responsibility and build a case for eventual prosecution. 'Of course we were able to identify high-level perpetrators,' del Ponte said, adding that these were people 'in command responsibility ... deciding, organizing, planning and aiding and abetting the commission of crimes'. She said it was urgent for the Hague-based war crimes tribunal to take up cases of 'very high officials', but did not identify them, in line with the inquiry's practice. 'We have crimes committed against children, rape and sexual violence. We have grave concerns. That is also one reason why an international body of justice must act because it is terrible.' Del Ponte, who brought former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to the ICC on war crimes charges, said the ICC prosecutor would need to deepen the investigation on Syria before an indictment could be prepared.
Pinheiro, noting that only the Security Council could refer Syria's case to the ICC, said: 'We are in very close dialogue with all the five permanent members and with all the members of the Security Council, but we don't have the key that will open the path to cooperation inside the Security Council.' Karen Koning AbuZayd, an American member of the UN team, told Reuters it had information pointing to 'people who have given instructions and are responsible for government policy, people who are in the leadership of the military, for example'. The inquiry's third list of suspects, building on lists drawn up in the past year, remains secret. It will be entrusted to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, upon expiry of its mandate at the end of March, the report said. Pillay, a former ICC judge, said on Saturday Assad should be probed for war crimes, and called for outside action on Syria, including possible military intervention. Pinheiro said the investigators would not speak publicly about 'numbers, names or levels' of suspects, adding that it was vital to pursue accountability for international crimes 'to counter the pervasive sense of impunity' in Syria. [...]"