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New Syria war crimes panel to launch soon: UN

A new UN body tasked with identifying individuals guilty of atrocities in Syria should start work shortly, a key step towards holding war crimes suspects to account, the UN rights chief said Monday.

A prominent judge or international lawyer to head the panel will be named “soon”, after funding for the post and a deputy was secured, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein told reporters in Geneva.

An initial budget of $13 million (11.9 million euros) has been nearly half funded but there is optimism about achieving the full amount after “quite a lot of countries” began contributing, Zeid added.

The panel approved by the UN General Assembly in December has been denounced by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government as unacceptable interference in the country’s affairs.

But proponents said it became necessary after veto-wielding UN Security Council powers China and main Assad ally Russia blocked repeated attempts to refer the Syrian conflict to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

The new panel, based in Geneva, will work with evidence already compiled by a UN-backed Commission of Inquiry for Syria as well as testimony and documents compiled by civil society groups.

It will aim to go further than merely condemn the war crimes committed in Syria — something UN officials have done repeatedly through the conflict.

It will instead strive to name specific individuals responsible for those crimes and, ideally, assign their cases to courts that may have standing to prosecute.