A new body is being set up at the United Nations in Geneva to prepare prosecutions of war crimes committed in Syria, UN officials and diplomats said on Thursday.
The General Assembly voted to establish the mechanism in December and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is due to name a judge or prosecutor as its head this month.
“We expect to start very, very shortly with just a handful of people,” a UN human rights official said.
The team will “analyze information, organize and prepare files on the worst abuses that amount to international crimes – primarily war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide – and identify those responsible,” the official added.
While it would not be able to prosecute itself, the idea is to prepare files for future prosecution that states or the International Criminal Court in The Hague could use.
The rights watchdog Amnesty International said last week the Assad regime has executed up to 13,000 prisoners in mass hangings and carried out systematic torture at a military jail.
The United Nations aims to recruit 40-60 experts in investigations, prosecutions, the military, and forensics, diplomats said.
“It’s a very important step. It will not only allow court cases but also help us preserve evidence if there are cases in the future,” a senior Western diplomat said.
Legal experts and activists welcomed the initiative. “The focus is on collecting evidence and building criminal cases before the trail goes cold,” said Andrew Clapham, professor of international law at Geneva’s Graduate Institute.
Jeremie Smith of the Cairo Institute of Human Rights Studies said the United Nations must lay the groundwork for prosecutions ahead of any “exodus” of perpetrators when the war ends. “This is the only way to make sure criminals don’t get away by fleeing the scene of the crime.” (Sources: Syrian Coalition’s Media Department + Agencies)