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Del Ponte quits UN over Syria

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By Catherine Hardy  with REUTERS
Del Ponte quits UN over Syria

A high-profile member of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria says she is quitting because a lack of political backing from the organisation’s Security Council has made the job impossible.

70-year-old Carla del Ponte made the announcement at a round-table event at the Locarno Film Festival, according to the Swiss national news agency, SDA.

Her departure will leave only two commissioners, Brazilian human rights expert Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro and Karen Koning AbuZayd from the US.

What did Del Ponte say?

“I am quitting this commission, which is not backed by any political will,” she said, adding that her role was just an “alibi”.

“I have no power as long as the Security Council does nothing. We are powerless, there is no justice for Syria.”

Del Ponte could not be immediately reached for comment and the UN did not immediately confirm her plans to quit.

How long has she been in the role?

The former Swiss attorney general joined the three-member Syria inquiry in September 2012.

It chronicled incidents including chemical weapons attacks, a genocide against Iraq’s Yazidi population, siege tactics and the bombing of aid convoys.

When was the commission set up?

In August 2011. It has regularly reported on human rights violations but its pleas to observe international law have largely fallen on deaf ears.

What reputation did Del Ponte have?

As outspoken and occasionally controversial. In 2013, for example, she shocked Western governments by declaring that the UN had “strong suspicions” of Syrian rebels using sarin gas.

Two years later, she said justice would catch up with Syrian President Bashar al Assad, even if he remained in power under a negotiated peace settlement.

Earlier this year, when the commission reported on Syrian government aircraft deliberately targeting a humanitarian convoy, del Ponte hinted at her frustration with the inability to bring the perpetrators to justice.

“What we have seen here in Syria, I never saw that in Rwanda or Yugoslavia, in the Balkans. It is really a big tragedy. Unfortunately, we have no tribunal.”

Are there any signs of a UN tribunal for Syria?

Not yet. Although the organisation is setting up a new body to prepare prosecutions, there is no sign of any court being established to try war crimes allegedly committed in the six-and-a-half-year-old war.

Equally, there is no sign of any intention by the UN Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court in the Hague.