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UN chief demands justice for Syria ‘war crimes’

Published on 10/09/2012

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called Monday for all war criminals in Syria to be brought to justice, as his human rights chief urged a probe into the slaughter of hundreds of people in the town of Daraya.

“We must ensure that anyone, on any side, who commits war crimes, crimes against humanity or other violations of international human rights or humanitarian law is brought to justice,” Ban said in Geneva, where he opened the 21st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

In subsequent addresses, a number of countries backed his call, as did UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who again urged that the Security Council ask the International Criminal Court to prosecute the perpetrators of atrocities in Syria.

“A referral will make it abundantly clear to all actors in Syria that they will not escape justice and will be held accountable for alleged violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law,” she said on the first day of the three-week rights council session.

Pillay on Monday also urged an immediate probe into the slaughter late last month of hundreds of people in the southern Syrian town of Daraya.

“I am deeply shocked by the reports of the massacre in Daraya and I urge an immediate and thorough investigation into this incident,” she said.

She also criticised the Syrian regime for its use of heavy weapons, indiscriminate shelling and its reported bulldozing of houses, cautioning that these actions “may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

Like Ban, she stressed though that serious human rights violations were being perpetrated by both sides in the conflict, cautioning that “opposition forces should be under no illusion that they will be immune from prosecution.”

Her comments drew ire from several delegates at a side event on the Syrian crisis, with the Turkish envoy insisting: “We have to distinguish the oppressed from the oppressor.”

Ban meanwhile said in his opening address that he was “deeply troubled by the aerial bombardments of civilians by government forces, by the increasing sectarian tensions, by the deteriorating humanitarian situation and by the apparent choice of both sides to pursue a solution through force rather than dialogue.”

He called on all sides to support the efforts of the new UN and Arab League peace envoy for the Syria conflict, Lakhdar Brahimi, who succeeds Kofi Annan in the role.

Brahimi was on Monday meeting with Arab League officials, Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi and other leaders in Cairo to discuss the crisis and finalise plans for a pending visit to Damascus.

He has described his mission to end the violence, which in the past 18 months has claimed more than 27,000 lives, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, as “very difficult”.

More than 2.5 million people in Syria have been directly affected by the violence and are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, according to UN figures.

In its latest report published last month, the UN Commission of Inquiry announced that it was drawing up a confidential list of people from both sides of the conflict responsible for atrocities, in a first step towards eventually bringing them to justice.

Since the commission headed by Brazilian Paulo Sergio Pinheiro was created a year ago, it has held more than a thousand interviews with perpetrators and victims in the conflict, but has not been able to actually visit Syria.

The commission’s mandate will in principle end during the current rights council session, but the diplomats are set in coming days to discuss a new resolution on Syria that will allow the commission’s experts to continue their work.