Christopher Lee

UN Syrian War Crimes List is secret.  Why? This isn’t one-side savagery.

17 September 2012

The Foreign Office has received a Restricted circulation list of suspect war crimes committed by Syrian military.  The list is compiled by yet another UN Commission. For the past twelve months, the Commission’s task has been to find abuses in human rights in Syria.

You’d think that was something of a home-by-teatime job.  Not so, according to the suits here in Whitehall.   The tricky number is not so much gathering reports because they come real or imagined from anyone with an iPhone in any place you can name in Syria.

The test is two-fold: forget allegations and concentrate on hard evidence and secondly, is the evidence against individuals on both sides of the civil war tough enough to prosecute?

Because the chairman of the International Commission of Inquiry for Syria set up last year  is Paulo Sergio Pinheiro. He has asked the UN Security Council (the UK is one of the five permanent members, hence the study in London) to copy his finding to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague.

That would be the first step in indictments for war crimes in the Syrian civil war.

Mr Pinheiro says there’s sure evidence that individuals at the top of Syria’s government have been signing off massacres – remember more than 100 killed at Houla last Spring – individual murders, torturing and rape.

Now, this gets more interesting as the crimes themselves.

Yesterday (Monday) there was a meeting in Geneva of the Human Rights Council. At that session Mr Pinheiro rehearsed all his skills and caution that has made him such a respected Brazilian diplomat and academic at Brown University, Oxford and Ecole des hautes etudes en sciences sociales.

He gave the Council a confidential list of the individuals who might stand accused of the war crimes.

However, that’s the list we should see.  We all know that no conflict goes clean. Every fight is dirty and a civil war tends to be the dirtiest because there’s little ideology fought over only blood vengeance and something deeper than ideology – ethnic hatred.  So it is in Syria.

Why then no naming of names? Professorial lawyer Pinheiro says his Commission lacks one crucial element: absolute proof that would nail the war criminals for the rest of their natural lives.  So what’s going on? Rumour? No, he say. We know who is guilty.  Well, we could all guess up big on this one.

The problem is this: the professor can tell the ICC who authorized and in many cases carried out the criminal atrocities. But the ICC has to have squeaky clean evidence otherwise there’s no chance of a conviction – assuming any of them come to trial.

Something else missing from that list are the names of the rebel war criminals.

But aren’t we all supposed to be on the side of the rebels? Every Western government is. Blind faith in their cause?

Listen to Obama, Cameron et al and that certainly sounds like it.  So why nothing on the summary executions carried out by Free Syrian Army rebels in Aleppo, Latakia and Idlib?  There’s just as much evidence for the rebel ordered atrocities as there is for the crimes committed in the name of Assad.

There is a further complication. Islamist fighters have infiltrated the Free Syrian Army. There is not enough overall command and control over the FSA and therefore the Islamists are killing in the manner they know best – with ruthless disregard for the human rights the FSA is supposedly fighting for.

Messy enough? It should be, especially as now we know that there is a considerable number of Iranian special forces – the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolution Guards Corps – operating in Assad’s army.

They have arrived to take command or enforce command since the wounding of Assad’s hardline brother Maher who is said to have lost both legs in a bomb attack in Damascus on 18 July.

Maher al-Assad’s name is on the professor’s list. It is hoped that his rebel role call is as detailed and as high ranking.

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