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UN documents new war crimes in Syria for future prosecution

Reuters | Last Updated: Saturday, January 25, 2014 - 06:57

Geneva: UN war crimes experts have documented more torture and killings by both sides in Syria and are confident they can build a case that could be taken up by the International Criminal Court, a leading member of the team said on Friday.

They are drawing up a fourth confidential list of suspects, either individuals or units linked to crimes committed since July, Karen Koning AbuZayd, an American expert serving on an independent commission of inquiry set up by the United Nations in 2011, said in an interview.

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said in December that evidence collected by the investigators implicates President Bashar al-Assad, later denying that she had direct knowledge of their secret lists.
AbuZayd said the lists went up to "higher levels" of the Syrian government, declining to be more specific in the interview in Geneva, where the first talks involving the warring parties are expected over the coming week.

Foreign fighters in Syria, mainly Islamist groups, have their "own agenda", sometimes setting up sharia courts that issue summary sentences carried out immediately, including executions, AbuZayd said.

"Civil wars can be pretty bad, but people coming in from outside with radical agendas really don`t give a damn what they do to things or people in that wonderful country that Syria was."

Photographs allegedly taken by a Syrian military police photographer said to show the systematic torture and killing of about 11,000 detainees are not deemed admissible evidence for now, although the team is trying to find out more, AbuZayd said.
"We`ve told those people who have this information, to whom it was given, that whatever they would want to share with us, we would be following up.

"They claim to have numbers and names and so on and that families have identified some of these people. But they have to be very careful because the families are still inside (Syria)."

The 55,000 images provided by the photographer, who fled Syria after passing the pictures to Assad`s opponents, show emaciated and mutilated corpses.

"As far as we understand, those things are done, as described. But where these things came from and who the person was and all of that, we just don`t know," AbuZayd said.

"For us of course it is also a single source which we wouldn`t use because it is only a single source," she said at the Geneva-based UN human rights office.

The UN commission of inquiry has previously documented a number of cases of torture that led to death, similar to those described in Britain`s Guardian newspaper on Monday. Reported deaths in custody rose markedly during 2013, it has said.

According to the UN findings, the Syrian government and its intelligence agencies have used widespread, systematic torture to interrogate, intimidate and punish people seen as opponents. Torture has been used in detention centres, security branches, prisons and hospitals.

Documented methods used by the government include electric shocks, severe beating while in stress positions, cigarette burns, mock executions, sleep deprivation, and psychological torture such as threats to rape family members, it says.

First Published: Saturday, January 25, 2014 - 06:57

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