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UN investigators urge ICC trials for Syria's war criminals

The Syrian conflict has seen nearly 70,000 people killed since March 2011. Both sides have committed war crime violations such as murder and torture, investigators say.

By Stephanie NebehayReuters / February 18, 2013

Member of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria Carla del Ponte listens during a news conference at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva February 18. Syrians in 'leadership positions' who may be responsible for war crimes have been identified, along with units accused of perpetrating them, United Nations investigators said on Monday.

Denis Balibouse/Reuters

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Geneva

United Nations investigators said on Monday that Syrian leaders they had identified as suspected war criminals should face the International Criminal Court (ICC).

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The investigators urged the U.N. Security Council to "act urgently to ensure accountability" for violations, including murder and torture, committed by both sides in a conflict that has killed an estimated 70,000 people since a revolt against President Bashar al-Assad began in March, 2011.

"Now really it's time...We have a permanent court, the International Criminal Court, who would be ready to take this case," Carla del Ponte, a former ICC chief prosecutor who joined the U.N. team in September, told a news briefing in Geneva.

The inquiry, led by Brazilian Paulo Pinheiro, is tracing the chain of command to establish criminal responsibility and build a case for eventual prosecution.

"Of course we were able to identify high-level perpetrators," del Ponte said, adding that these were people "in command responsibility...deciding, organising, planning and aiding and abetting the commission of crimes".

She said it was urgent for the Hague-based war crimes tribunal to take up cases of "very high officials", but did not identify them, in line with the inquiry's practice.

"We have crimes committed against children, rape and sexual violence. We have grave concerns. That is also one reason why an international body of justice must act because it is terrible."

Del Ponte, who brought former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to the ICC on war crimes charges, said the ICC prosecutor would need to deepen the investigation on Syria before an indictment could be prepared.

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