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Both sides are committing ‘incredible’ crimes

Carla del Ponte is a member of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria Reuters

Swiss prosecutor Carla Del Ponte says ‘incredible’ crimes are being committed by both sides in the Syrian conflict. The former diplomat, who is a member of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria, also warned against military action.

This content was published on September 9, 2013 - 16:57
Simon Bradley in Geneva, swissinfo.ch

“There are no good or bad ones – they are all bad. Government forces and rebels are both committing war crimes as serious and incredible as each other,” Del Ponte told reporters at a press conference in Geneva on Monday. “I have never seen such acts of torture, even in the Balkans conflict.”

The panel she works for was set up by the UN Human Rights Council in September 2011 to probe war crimes and other human rights abuses in Syria, including the use of chemical weapons.

Del Ponte refused to be drawn on questions about chemical attacks in Syria, in particular the deadly August 21 poison gas attack in Damascus in which up to 1,400 people, including more than 400 children, are reported to have died.

In May she told Swiss TV the UN had gathered testimony suggesting that rebels had used the nerve gas sarin in the Syrian conflict. The UN commission later issued a statement distancing itself from Del Ponte's claim.

“There is an on-going investigation and I’m not going to add anything,” she commented.

International attention has focused on a separate report investigating the use of chemical weapons in Syria, due to be released by UN specialists who returned from the war-torn country on August 31.

The United States and European countries have laid the blame for the August chemical attack on the government of President Bashar al-Assad, but Europeans have urged the US to delay possible action until the UN inspectors report their findings in the coming days.

Step by step

Del Ponte clarified the overall investigations: “First, we are expecting the results of the technical expertise from the special investigators who were there – was it the use of chemical weapons or not? Second, the commission must be able to conduct a proper investigation to know who is using what, and it is not only August 21 but in our last report we indicate four locations where there are suspicions of use of chemical weapons.”

“Now is the time to have proper results and the truth,” she said.

On Monday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said there was little doubt that chemical weapons had been used in Syria, but the “circumstances and responsibilities remain to be clarified”.

Since being set up, Del Ponte’s commission has been steadily building up a ‘list’ of war crimes committed in Syria and the political and military people thought to be responsible.

“Every day the list gets longer and longer,” added Del Ponte, who served as prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

Alibi

She expressed her frustration that so far the UN Security Council had not referred the case of Syria to the International Criminal Court due to vetoes by the Russians and Chinese.

“For the moment this commission is an alibi for the international community, which does nothing,” she warned.

The United States has been seeking international support for limited strikes against Assad's government, which it accuses of using chemical weapons.

Del Ponte warned that military action against Syria would only make a negotiated solution more complicated.

“Military intervention would only lead to more victims and deaths and make a political solution more difficult. A negotiated solution is the only one possible for the Syrians,” she added.

Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria, with anti-government protests in March 2011, the conflict has claimed over 100,000 lives and forced millions to flee their homes both inside Syria and to neighbouring countries. The government and rebels have been accusing each another of having carried out chemical weapon attacks over the past six months.

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