UN war crimes panel seeks access to refugees in Europe

19 September 2016
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UN war crimes investigators on Monday called on European countries to let them interview more newly-arrived Syrian refugees to document fresh violations, saying it had become increasingly difficult.

The panel, set up five years ago, says it has compiled a confidential list of suspects on all sides of the conflict that have carried out war crimes or crimes against humanity. It has repeatedly called for major powers to refer Syria to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.

“We are appealing to countries inside Europe hosting newly arrived Syrian refugees to grant us access and remove any barriers to our work,” Paulo Pinheiro, chairman of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, told the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

He did not name the European countries hampering the investigators’ access to Syrian refugees. Many went to Germany after travelling through Greece, Italy and Turkey.

“Time is of the essence, particularly if the Commission is to continue preparing well-documented reports on the current situation in the country, rather than reports of a historical nature,” Pinheiro said.

The Syrian government had recently disclosed information to the United Nations which the panel was examining in the context of its investigations into crimes committed by Islamic State and mass graves found in Palmyra, he added.

The panel said earlier this month that it has a database of some 5,000 detailed interviews and information, some of which is being shared with national jurisdictions seeking to prosecute their nationals serving as foreign fighters.

A 20-truck aid convoy destined for eastern Aleppo with enough supplies to feed tens of thousands is still stuck in Turkey, the UN aid chief said on Monday, hours after a seven-day ceasefire in Syria expired.

“The politicisation of humanitarian assistance by any party to the conflict must not be allowed. For, as we have witnessed time and again, roadblocks made of red tape are just effective as roadblocks made of weapons of war,” Pinheiro said.

Moscow stepped up its war of words with Washington on Sunday, saying deadly air strikes by the US-led coalition on the Syrian army threatened the implementation of a US-Russian ceasefire plan for Syria and bordered on connivance with Islamic State.

Syrian ambassador Hussam Aala, speaking to the UN rights council on Monday, said that the coalition strike showed that “a number of countries arming Daesh (Islamic State) are colluding with this terrorist group and coordinates with them”.

“The reports of the commission have reached conclusions and recommendations which are far from being fair and are definitely biased,” Aala told the 47-member state forum.

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