World

War-crimes prosecutor, frustrated at UN inaction, quits panel on Syria

BEIRUT — For six years, an independent United Nations-appointed panel has documented a litany of war atrocities in Syria that have grown increasingly brazen: torture of prisoners, attacks on hospitals, sexual slavery.

On Sunday, the panel confirmed that one of its three members — Carla del Ponte, a Swiss prosecutor who formerly led UN war crimes tribunals — had resigned.

Advertisement

Speaking by phone from Ticino, Switzerland, Sunday, del Ponte said she had hoped the Security Council would either refer the case in Syria to the International Criminal Court or set up a special tribunal.

“I was expecting to persuade the Security Council to do something for justice,” she said. “Nothing happened for seven years. Now I resigned.”

Get Today's Headlines in your inbox:
The day's top stories delivered every morning.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Del Ponte said she hoped her resignation would nudge the world body to act. “We are going nowhere,” she said.

The panel’s two remaining members, Paulo Pinheiro of Brazil and Karen Koning AbuZayd of the United States, confirmed del Ponte’s resignation, and said they felt compelled to continue.

“It is our obligation to persist in its work on behalf of the countless number of Syrian victims of the worst human rights violations and international crimes known to humanity,” they said. “Such efforts are needed now more than ever.”

Advertisement

In Syria on Monday, opposition activists said government warplanes bombed a suburb of the capital Damascus where President Bashar Assad’s forces are fighting insurgents, the Associated Press reported.

The violence in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ein Tarma comes amid a truce in the area that went into effect last month.

Ein Tarma is controlled by the Failaq al-Rahman rebel group that does not recognize the truce reached by Russia, Turkey, and Iran who support rival groups. The three countries approved a plan in May to create four ‘‘de-escalation’’ zones in Syria.

The Syrian Civil Defense group said several people were wounded in the latest attack.

The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, as the UN panel is officially known, has produced a stack of reports that chronicle evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

It also has compiled names of perpetrators of the most serious crimes, which the panel once threatened to reveal.

Its reports are an object lesson in how blatantly the laws of war have been broken, with no near-term prospects of accountability.

Only the Security Council has the authority to refer the conflict to the International Criminal Court.

That is unlikely, as Russia, a permanent veto-wielding member of the Security Council, backs Assad’s government and has directly intervened in the war, as has the United States.

The General Assembly, responding to the inaction, established late last year a highly unusual office within the UN to compile evidence of war crimes for prosecution in the future.

The commission was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, a Geneva-based body made up of 45 countries.

Loading comments...
Real journalists. Real journalism. Subscribe to The Boston Globe today.