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UN investigator says enough evidence on Assad to convict for war crimes in Syria

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, shown in a file picture taken on January 18, 2014, said Damascus is negotiating with ally Moscow to purchase the latest anti-missile system
JOSEPH EID (AFP/File)
She recently stepped down over frustrations with the UN's shortcomings in setting up a tribunal for Syria

A member of the United Nations commission of inquiry on Syria, who resigned just last week, told a Swiss newspaper Sunday that  there is enough evidence to be able to convict Syrian president Bashar  al Assad of war crimes.

The prominent member of the commission, Carla del Ponte, has prosecuted war crimes in Rwanda and former Yugoslavia, according to Reuters, but stepped down last week over frustrations with the UN Security Council’s shortcomings in establishing a special tribunal for Syria that could try alleged war criminals.

In the interview with Swiss newspaper SonntagsZeitung, the 70-year-old  former Swiss attorney general was asked whether she believed there was enough evidence for Assad to be convicted of war crimes to which she replied: "Yes, I am convinced that is the case.”

“That is why the situation is so frustrating,” she continued. “The preparatory work has been done. Despite that, there is no prosecutor and no court."

FABRICE COFFRINI (AFP/File)

The commission was established in August 2011 and has closely monitored the humanitarian crisis, reporting on the many human rights violations committed in the war ravaged country, but the international community has failed to take any definitive actions.

Neither the UN nor the International Criminal Court in the Hague have so far established a court over the war crimes committed in the six-and-a-half year-old civil war.

Russia, a close ally of Assad's government, has a veto on the Security Council as one of its five permanent members, reported Reuters.

Del Ponte joined the commission in 2012 and did not specify when she would leave her post.

"For six years, the commission has investigated. Now a prosecutor should continue our work and bring the war criminals before a special court,” she told the paper. “But that is exactly what Russia is blocking with its veto in the UN Security Council."

Fadi Dirani (AFP/File)

Assad’s government has adamantly denied committing any of the war crimes alleged against him including incidents of chemical attack on his people.

Assad described the allegations as a "100 percent fabrication." He has said repeatedly that his forces turned over all chemical weapons stockpiles in 2013, under a deal brokered by Russia to avoid threatened US military action.

The agreement was later enshrined in a United Nations Security Council resolution.

But US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis previously warned that there was "no doubt" that Syria had in fact retained some chemical weapons.

An Israeli military assessment also found that Assad's regime was still in possession of "a few tonnes" of chemical weapons. Israel also reportedly believes the attack was approved by the highest echelons of the Assad regime.

Syria's war began in March 2011 with anti-government protests that spiraled into a complex and devastating conflict that has killed more than 320,000 people.

(Staff with agencies)

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