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International Pressure Growing to Refer Syria to ICC

  • Margaret Besheer

FILE - U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay

FILE - U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told the U.N. Security Council Friday that she believes war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed by both sides in the Syrian conflict, and she said the situation should be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague.

Pillay said she told the 15-nation council that more than 60,000 Syrians have been killed in the conflict and that heinous crimes - such as rape, torture, killings, abductions and the recruitment of child soldiers - are taking place.

“I have informed the Security Council that based on the information that I have received and which the Commission of Inquiry has gathered - I firmly believe that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed, are being committed, and should be investigated,” said Pillay.

It is not the first time the human rights commissioner has called for the situation in Syria to be referred to the ICC. She said she would continue to call for the move, because the United Nations does not support impunity for such grave human rights violations.

Multi-national support

Pillay was supported by the Security Council ambassadors from France, Britain, Australia, Luxembourg and South Korea, who made their own joint appeal for the matter to be referred to The Hague. British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant spoke on behalf of the five, who along with 53 other countries signed a letter this week to the U.N. Security Council president calling for the referral.

“In the face of such a dramatic death toll and the silence of the Security Council, we felt that we must speak out on the absolute need for accountability and to send a clear message that the international community is not turning a blind eye to the atrocities being committed in Syria. Without accountability, there will be no sustainable peace,” said Grant.

Grant acknowledged that divisions remain among the 15-nation council about such a referral. Several members, including veto-holders Russia and China, are not members to the court’s treaty.

Rising sexual violence

U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos also briefed the closed meeting of the council. She told reporters afterwards that sexual violence against women in Syria is on the rise.

“I have also spoken to women refugees who have raised this issue with me; that they have fled Syria because of their concerns, not just for themselves, but particularly for their daughters,” said Amos.

She also expressed concerns about the effect of the harsh winter on those inside Syria and refugees in neighboring countries, and said the United Nations urgently needs funding for its $1.5 billion humanitarian appeal.

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