Middle East

Syria crisis: UN may release 'war criminal' lists

An injured civilian who was evacuated from Ratain village, lies in a field hospital near the village, north of Aleppo (17 February 2015) Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been accused of targeting civilians in Aleppo and eslewhere

United Nations investigators are considering revealing the names of an estimated 200 individuals suspected of committing war crimes in Syria.

The move would reverse a long-held policy of not naming alleged war criminals in the Syrian conflict.

Investigators said on Friday there had been an "exponential rise" in atrocities committed in Syria.

UN figures show that more than 220,000 people have been killed during Syria's four-year civil conflict.

The investigators - from the UN's Commission for Inquiry on Syria - said they had prepared five lists of names including "a variety of perpetrators from different groups".

The Commission refused to say how many suspects were named, but diplomatic sources told the BBC there were approximately 200.

The Syrian government has carried out innumerable air strikes on rebel-held territory throughout the conflict, and has been accused by human rights organisations of killing thousands of innocent civilians in the process.

The UN's High Commissioner for Refugees says more than nine million Syrians have been displaced as a result of continuing fighting.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Government forces are reportedly aiming to completely surround Aleppo's rebel-held areas

Speaking after a briefing of the UN Security Council on Friday, a spokesperson for the Commission said that they were "weighing the pros and cons" of publishing the lists of suspects.

The BBC understands that if they decide to publish the lists it will coincide with the UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva on 17 March.

'Impunity'

In a report published on Friday, the Commission stressed that both the Syrian regime and the main Islamist militant groups active in Syria - Islamic State (IS) and al-Nusra Front - had committed atrocities, as well as other smaller factions.

The report warned that despite the Commission's "long-standing position" not to name suspects, maintaining that policy would "reinforce the impunity" of alleged war criminals.

Speaking on Friday, investigators said that they had increasingly been sharing information with countries to enable them to prosecute their own citizens for crimes committed in Syria.

They revealed that four of the lists of names of alleged war criminals had been passed to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and a fifth would be handed over in March.

The five lists, compiled since the Commission began investigating in 2011, are understood to contain approximately 30 to 40 names each.


Stark numbers

The death toll for 2014 from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is just the latest grim statistic from years of war.

  • An estimated 10.8m people are in need inside Syria
  • Over 10m displaced by the conflict
  • 3.2m refugees in neighbouring countries
  • More than 50% of the country live in extreme poverty
  • Half of the country's children are not in school

Syria's refugee crisis

Conflict in numbers


Noting the rise in atrocities over the four-year conflict, the Commission's report said the scale of war crimes in Syria "raises questions about the inadequacy of the response of the international community".

A spokeswoman for the Commission said that the UN Security Council "was not acting" despite damning evidence of human rights abuses.

"We expect really after four years that something must be done," she said.