UN rights council renews war crimes investigation in Syria for another year

The Associated Press

In this photo taken Thursday, March 27, 2014, Syrian government soldiers take position during clashes with rebels in Misherfeh town in the province of Latakia, Syria. Syrian forces on Thursday bombarded rebel positions with artillery and warplanes in the Mediterranean coastal province of Latakia, trying to push back opposition fighters who over the past week made rare territorial gains in President Bashar Assad's ancestral heartland. (AP Photo)

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By JOHN HEILPRIN, Associated Press

GENEVA (AP) — The U.N.'s top human rights body voted overwhelmingly to renew its war crimes investigation in Syria for another year Friday, as diplomatic efforts to revive negotiations between the government and opposition remain deadlocked.

By a vote of 32-4, with 11 abstentions, the 47-nation Human Rights Council adopted the resolution that again condemns the horrific violence in Syria's three-year civil war. Russia, China, Venezuela and Cuba voted against it.

U.K. Ambassador Karen Pierce told diplomats Friday in Geneva that the resolution had three aims: to renew the investigation, condemn as strongly as possible violations of humanitarian and human rights laws, and support efforts to hold culprits accountable.

"We believe that this resolution represents a measured response to the worst human rights situation that this council has ever faced," she said.

The head of the U.N. panel investigating human rights abuses in Syria last week provided the most specific information so far about the identities of suspected criminals, saying it had prepared four confidential lists of people and groups that it has identified as responsible for crimes including hostage-taking, torture and executions.

The head of the panel, Brazilian diplomat and scholar Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, said 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.

The Geneva-based rights council established the investigation to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law since March 2011 in Syria — whether by the government or the opposition — and to identify whenever possible those responsible, so that they can be prosecuted.

Syrian U.N. envoy Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui described the latest resolution approved on the final day of the council's monthlong session as biased against his government. Syria's war has killed more than 140,000 people, forced millions to flee their homes and their country and triggered a regional humanitarian crisis.

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