U.N. investigators said on Tuesday they had expanded their list of suspected war criminals on both sides of Syria's civil war and the evidence was solid enough to prepare an indictment. But with Syrian ally Russia almost certain to block any United Nations Security Council referral to the International Criminal Court, it is unlikely the panel's announcement will see suspected perpetrators of war crimes brought to justice.
The chairman of the U.N. commission of inquiry on Syria, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, told a news conference the "perpetrators list" includes the heads of intelligence branches and detention facilities where torture occurs; military commanders who target civilians; officials overseeing airports from where barrel bomb attacks are planned and executed; and leaders of armed groups involved in attacking civilians.
Some 20 investigators have carried out 2,700 in-person and Skype interviews with victims, witnesses and defectors in the region to create the report for the United Nations Human Rights Council. They have never been allowed to enter the country, now in its fourth year of an increasingly sectarian conflict.
Despite the accumulation of evidence, diplomats say it is unlikely Syria would be referred to the ICC, which tries war crime suspects in The Hague, any time soon.
As Syria has not signed the Rome statutes establishing the ICC, the Security Council would need to make the referral. Russia, supported by China, has shielded its ally Syria throughout the war, vetoing three U.N. resolutions that would have condemned President Bashar al-Assad's government and threatened it with possible sanctions.
"We do not lack information on crimes or even on perpetrators. What we lack is a means by which to achieve justice and accountability but this is not in our powers," Pinheiro said.
The commission said the period of Jan. 20 to March 10 was characterized by escalating hostilities between insurgent groups throughout northern and northeastern provinces of Syria as rebel strongholds came under attack.
Government forces have dropped barrel bombs on Aleppo and other cities, causing extensive civilian casualties in areas with no clear military target, and severely tortured detainees.
The mostly Sunni insurgents seeking to topple Assad, whose minority Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shia Islam, have used car and suicide bombs targeting civilian areas — also violations of international law, the commission said.
Fighters from Al-Qaeda splinter group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) executed detainees, including civilians, and captured soldiers, in Aleppo, Idlib and al Raqqa before coming under attack by other armed groups such as the Islamic Front, it said.