War crimes should not be part of Syria amnesty, says UN rights chief

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(London Post)    War crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria must be tried in court, said the UN’s top rights official. His statement comes as peace talks struggle to gain ground, with a reluctant opposition insisting on its demands.

UN Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said on Monday that a peace deal granting amnesty to both sides of the Syrian conflict should not include war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Assad’s representatives and the opposition are joining the Syria peace talks in Geneva, but they will not sit at the same table. The chances of success are slim, but US and Russian influence could be a force for good.

“In the case of Syria, we are there to remind everyone that where there are allegations that reach the threshold of war crimes or crimes against humanity that amnesties are not permissible,” he said.

The siege of more than 15 towns, including Madaya, by government forces and rebel groups resulting in starvation is “not just a war crime but a crime against humanity if proven in court,” the UN human rights chief added.

In January, the UN secretary-general made a similar statement after news emerged that hundreds of people starved to death in the city of Madaya. “Starvation as a weapon is a war crime,” Ban Ki-moon said.

Al-Hussein’s statement in Geneva comes as peace talks aiming to secure a political end to the nearly five-year conflict in Syria have been stalled by a reluctant opposition that wants their demands met before entering formal negotiations with President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

‘Humanitarian issues’

“We only came to Geneva after written commitments on the fact that there should be serious progress on the humanitarian issues,” said Basma Kodmani, a spokeswoman for the High Negotiations Council, a Saudi-backed umbrella coalition of rebel groups vying for al-Assad’s ouster.

“We are here for political negotiations, but we cannot start those until we have those gestures,” Kodmani added.

The HNC has called for the government to stop bombing civilians, end the siege on several Syrian towns and release political prisoners.

However, the government delegation said the opposition was “not serious” following the appointment of Mohamed Alloush – a political leader of the Saudi-backed Army of Islam rebel group deemed a “terrorist” group by Moscow and Damascus – as the HNC’s chief negotiator.

UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura is expected to meet with the rebel delegation on Monday.

More than 250,000 people have been killed and half the population displaced since the conflict erupted in 2011 after government forces fatally quashed peaceful demonstrations calling for al-Assad to step down.

ls/jil (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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