Friday 20 April 2018

‘Everyone is bad in Syria now’ – UN war crimes prosecutor

Children play amid the rubble inside a refugee camp in a rebel-held part of the southern city of Deraa, Syria. Photo: Reuters/Alaa al-Faqir
Children play amid the rubble inside a refugee camp in a rebel-held part of the southern city of Deraa, Syria. Photo: Reuters/Alaa al-Faqir

Josie Ensor Beirut

A senior war crimes prosecutor has announced she is resigning from a United Nations panel on Syria, saying she has lost faith it will ever bring criminals to account and that “everyone is bad” now in the war-torn country.

Carla Del Ponte said she was quitting the three-member commission investigating human rights abuses in Syria after five years because it “does absolutely nothing”.

Carla Del Ponte. Photo: Martial Trezzini/Keystone via AP
Carla Del Ponte. Photo: Martial Trezzini/Keystone via AP

“We have had absolutely no success,” she said. “For five years we’ve been running up against walls.”

Ms Del Ponte, who has previously sat on tribunals that investigated atrocities in Rwanda and Yugoslavia, has repeatedly decried the UN Security Council’s refusal to appoint a similar court for Syria’s six-year-old civil war.

Permanent member Russia – a key backer of Bashar al-Assad’s government – has repeatedly vetoed council actions.

“I give up. The states in the Security Council don’t want justice,” the 70-year-old Swiss national said frankly. “I can’t any longer be part of this commission which simply doesn’t do anything.”

The commission was set up in August 2011 by the Human Rights Council to investigate crimes in Syria, whoever the perpetrator.

It has released about a dozen reports but investigators have never gained access to Syria itself, instead relying on interviews, photos, medical records and other documents.

In the reports they detail torture, rape, starvation sieges, the mass bombing of civilians and the use of chemical weapons.

But Ms Del Ponte, who put Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic in the dock at The Hague, said that as long as the Security Council did not put in place a special tribunal for war crimes in Syria, all such reports were pointless.

“Nothing happens, only words, words, and more words,” she lamented earlier this year.

She was the first UN official to explicitly point the finger of blame at the Assad regime for the sarin gas attacks in 2013, which left more than 1,000 dead, and vowed justice would catch up with President Assad.

In her comments, made to Swiss magazine ‘Blick’ on the sidelines of the Locarno film festival, Ms Del Ponte described Syria as a land without a future.

She said she had never seen such crimes before, either in Rwanda or former Yugoslavia.

“We thought the international community had learned from Rwanda. But no, it learned nothing,” she said.

At first in Syria, “the opposition [members] were the good ones; the government were the bad ones,” she was quoted as saying.

But after six years, Ms Del Ponte concluded: “In Syria, everyone is bad. The Assad government is committing terrible crimes against humanity and using chemical weapons. And the opposition, that is made up only of extremists and terrorists.”

Her comments will be troubling for Syria’s political opposition, as well as the civil society groups operating in rebel-held areas of the country.

Government troops have concentrated on driving moderate elements out of their former strongholds in Aleppo and the suburbs of Damascus and have bussed them to Idlib, which is largely controlled by Islamists.

In another blow to the opposition, earlier this month the US ended its CIA programme, which had been training and arming rebels fighting Mr Assad.

Analysts warned the move will only disparage moderate rebels – the US-led coalition’s main allies on the ground – while emboldening more radical elements of the opposition. (© Daily Telegraph London)

Irish Independent

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