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Fri May 27 04:22:52 CAT 2016

'No amnesty' for suspected Syria war criminals: UN rights chief

AFP | 01 February, 2016 14:52
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein. File photo
Image by: KIM HONG-JI / REUTERS

The United Nations human rights chief said that no amnesty should be possible for people suspected of committing war crimes or crimes against humanity, as Geneva hosted troubled talks aimed at ending Syria's war.

"We do have a principled position in the United Nations that no amnesties should be considered for those suspected of having committed crimes against humanity or war crimes," UN rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein told reporters in Geneva.

His comments came as indirect UN-brokered talks between Syria's warring parties, which had been scheduled to start last week, continued to struggle to get off the ground.

Zeid said the talks must go forward and secure a swift end to the violence.

"Naturally after five years of this most gruesome spectacle of seeing the Syrian public subjected to public executions we hope and pray that the talks being mediated by (UN Syria envoy) Staffan de Mistura will lead to the end of all of these horrific abuses, human rights abuses, violations of international humanitarian law," he said.

He condemned the tragic scenes unfolding in the besieged city of Madaya, where 46 people have starved to death since December, according to the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) charity, which warned Saturday dozens more were on the verge of death.

"Clearly, when looking most recently at the forced starvation of the people of Madaya, and knowing there are 15 other besieged towns and cities, this is not just a war crime but a crime against humanity, if proven in court," Zeid said.

He also said that his office estimates that "tens of thousands of persons (in Syria) are currently being held under arbitrary detention."

"Clearly they need to be released."

More than a quarter of a million people have been killed since the conflict erupted in 2011, and half the country's population has been forced to flee their homes.

While urging a swift end to Syria's war, Zeid said negotiations needed to steer clear of offering amnesties for the worst of the crimes committed.

"It is clear that in some circumstances, when looking at the end of conflict, amnesties are being thought of, and there is much discussion in many contexts about this," he said.

"In the case of Syria, we are here to remind everyone that where allegations reach the threshold of war crimes or crimes against humanity, amnesties are not permissible."

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