UN to set up new unit for prosecutions of war crimes in Syria
UN officials have announced that a new unit is being set up by the United Nations in Geneva to prepare prosecutions of war crimes committed in Syria. This is the first major policy announcement under UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who will soon name a judge or prosecutor as its head. The General Assembly voted to establish the mechanism in December.
The unit will not be able to prosecute – its scope will be to “analyse information, organise and prepare files on the worst abuses that amount to international crimes – primarily war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide – and identify those responsible”, a UN human rights official said. Files prepared by the unit could be used in future prosecutions by states or by the international criminal court in The Hague.
The UN is expected to recruit 40 – 60 experts in diverse fields including investigations, prosecutions, the military and forensics. “It’s a very important step. It will not only allow court cases but also help us preserve evidence if there are cases in the future,” a senior western diplomat said.
The focus on prosecutions means evidence collected since 2011 by a UN commission of inquiry (COI) may stimulate legal action. The COI has issued 20 reports accusing the Assad government, rebel forces and Islamic State of mass killings, rapes, disappearances and recruiting child soldiers.
Human rights group Amnesty International said the Syrian government executed up to 13,000 prisoners in mass hangings and carried out systematic torture at a military jail. Syria’s government denied the accusations, saying the report was “devoid of truth”.