Middle East

UN draws up new list of Syria war crimes suspects

Karen Koning Abu Zayd and Paulo Sergio Pinheiro of the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria look at a document in Geneva (17 September 2012)
Image caption Mr Pinheiro said there was an "increasing and alarming presence" of Islamist militants in Syria

A UN commission investigating human rights abuses in Syria says it has drawn up a new secret list of Syrians and units suspected of war crimes.

Lead investigator Paulo Sergio Pinheiro said they had gathered a "formidable and extraordinary body of evidence".

He also urged the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has said armed rebels are torturing detainees and carrying out summary executions.

But violations by government forces were more widespread, it added.

'Alarming' Islamist presence

The Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria was set up by the UN Human Rights Council last year following an escalation of violence.

In August, the commission reported that systematic violations, including murder, torture and sexual violence, had been authorised at the highest levels of the Syrian government.

Opposition forces were also guilty of war crimes, it found, but not of the same gravity or on the same frequency or scale as those blamed on government forces.

It also concluded that government forces and pro-government militiamen had been behind the massacre of 108 people at Houla in May.

On Monday, the commission told a meeting of the Human Rights Council in Geneva that it had drawn up a "second confidential list of individuals and units believed to be responsible for violations".

Asked why the investigators would not name the suspects, he explained: "The commission considers it improper to publicly release the names due to the lower standard of proof employed by commissions of inquiry as compared to a court of law."

Another list was submitted to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, in February.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionPaul Wood witnesses an air strike in the Syrian city of Aleppo

The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, has urged the Human Rights Council to act, but it is not able to impose sanctions or order peacekeeping missions.

Mr Pinheiro also said there was an "increasing and alarming presence" of Islamist militants in Syria, some of whom were operating as part of the Free Syrian Army and others operating independently.

"Such elements tend to push anti-government fighters towards more radical positions," he added.

'Summary executions'

As Mr Pinheiro spoke, Human Rights Watch reported that rebel groups had carried out extrajudicial or summary executions in the north-western provinces of Aleppo, Latakia, and Idlib.

The group said a research mission sent to Syria last month had documented 12 cases of extra-judicial and summary executions. In particular, it focused on the alleged killing by the Free Syrian Army of four members of the al-Barri family.

Image caption Human Rights Watch said it was time for opposition leaders to condemn abuses by rebel fighters

Two members of the Aleppo Province Revolutionary Council claimed a local judicial council had tried and sentenced the men to death, but HRW said the haste with which they were executed made a fair trial appear impossible.

When confronted with evidence of extrajudicial executions, three opposition leaders told HRW that those who killed deserved to be killed, and that only the worst criminals were being executed.

"Declarations by opposition groups that they want to respect human rights are important, but the real test is how opposition forces behave," said Nadim Houry, HRW's deputy Middle East director. "Those assisting the Syrian opposition have a particular responsibility to condemn abuses."

Meanwhile, Der Spiegel reports that the Syrian army has been testing carrier systems for poison gas grenades in the desert south-east of the city of Aleppo.

The German magazine cited witnesses as saying that five or six empty grenades intended for chemical combat agents had been fired by tanks and planes at a facility near Safira. Iranian military personnel were flown in to observe the tests, the witnesses added.

On Monday, the head of Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IGRC) for the first time publicly acknowledged that it was operating in Syria.

But Gen Mohammad Ali Jafari said that members of the IRGC's elite overseas operations arm, the Quds Force, were serving only as advisers and it did not mean Iran was not conducting military activities there.