Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic

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The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic was set up by the United Nations Human Rights Council on 22 August 2011 to investigate human rights violations during the Syrian Civil War.[1] The Inquiry's Commissioners are Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro and Karen Koning Abuzayd.[2] The Commission posts regular updates via its official Twitter page.[3], and, until August 2017, Carla del Ponte.[4] By Summer 2017, the Commission had interviewed more than 5,000 witnesses, produced 13 reports and prepared several examples of war crimes.[4]

Houla massacre[edit]

The inquiry's investigations have included the Houla massacre, on which it concluded on 26 June 2012 that "with the available evidence" it could not rule out any of three possible perpetrators (Syrian Government forces, anti-Government forces, and foreign groups), although it considered anti-Government forces "unlikely" to have been the perpetrators due to their difficulty in accessing one of the sites in question against the superior firepower of government forces in the area.[5]

Chemical weapons use in Syria[edit]

On 5 May 2013 Carla del Ponte accused the Syrian rebels of using chemical weapons, a view of Syrian opposition chemical weapons capability diametrically opposed by the majority of Western government officials. She stated, "We still have to deepen our investigation, verify and confirm (the findings) through new witness testimony, but according to what we have established so far, it is at the moment opponents of the regime who are using sarin gas."[6]

On 6 May 2013, in an apparent reaction to Del Ponte’ comments the Commission issued a press release clarifying that it “has not reached conclusive findings as to the use of chemical weapons in Syria by any parties in the conflict”.[7]

In June 2013, the Commission reported that there was reason to believe that "limited quantities of toxic chemicals" had been used in the Khan al-Assal attack, but that it was not then in a position "to determine the precise chemical agents used, their delivery systems or the perpetrator".[8]

On 5 March 2014, the "Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic" (dated 12 February) published a report that stated that the chemical agents used in the Khan-al-Assal bore "the same unique hallmarks as those used in Al-Ghouta" in the August 2013 chemical attack. The report also indicated, based on "evidence available concerning the nature, quality and quantity of the agents used" that the perpetrators of the Al-Ghouta attack "likely had access to the chemical weapons stockpile of the Syrian military". In none of the incidents, however, was the commission’s "evidentiary threshold" met in regards to identifying the perpetrators of the chemical attacks.[9]

In August 2017, Del Ponte resigned from the Commission, due to frustration at the lack of support from the international community: “We could not obtain from the international community and the Security Council a resolution putting in place a tribunal, an ad hoc tribunal for all the crimes that are committed in Syria... Seven years of crime in Syria and total impunity. That is not acceptable.”[10] She blamed Russia for vetoing action:[4] "Now a prosecutor should continue our work and bring the war criminals before a special court. But that is exactly what Russia is blocking with its veto in the U.N. Security Council".[11] She said Assad's government used chemical weapons the during the April 2017 Khan Shaykhun chemical attack,[10] and that the Commission has gathered enough evidence for President al-Assad to be convicted of war crimes.[11]

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