The highest-ranking official of the United Nations mechanism that acts as the central repository of information and evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in Syria described progress made collecting and documenting evidence, while also stressing the immediate and urgent need to prepare for justice, as the General Assembly took up the latest report on the matter today.
Catherine Marchi-Uhel, Head of the International Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Persons Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011, presented the Mechanism’s third report (document A/73/741) to the Assembly, emphasizing the need to swiftly collect, consolidate and preserve information and evidence of the vast range of crimes committed on all sides. “The time to prepare for justice is not a distant future, but right now,” she said.
To that end, a central repository of information and evidence is being developed, using state‑of-the-art technology to categorize, de-duplicate, secure and retrieve material, she said. Two case files have been opened, including one that relates to ongoing proceedings in a national jurisdiction. The Geneva-based Mechanism has become both a new model for international criminal justice — born from the Security Council’s inability to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court — as well as an opportunity to address some weaknesses in the existing international criminal law framework.
Many States — mainly from the Western European and Others Group — as well as international organizations, United Nations actors and Syrian non-governmental organizations, have entered into frameworks with the Mechanism to allow the swift transfer of information and evidence, she noted. She asked that all Member States similarly share information and evidence, and facilitate access to victims and witnesses, while reiterating an invitation to Syria to cooperate with the Mechanism.
In the ensuing debate, speakers focused on the legitimacy of the Mechanism, which the General Assembly decided on 21 December 2016 to establish when it adopted resolution 71/248 by a vote of 105 in favour to 15 against, with 52 abstentions. While several representatives voiced their support for the Secretary-General’s proposal that the Mechanism be funded from 2020 through the United Nations’ regular budget, others contended that the Mechanism had been created by certain Member States for political ends under the guise of a quest for justice.
The representative of Liechtenstein, speaking on behalf of other like-minded countries, said the Mechanism had been created both in response to the atrocities committed daily in Syria and the collective shame and frustration over the inaction of the Security Council, where two permanent members blocked efforts to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court. The General Assembly has ample space to adopt important and politically relevant decisions to restore its role as the Organization’s central policy-making body, he said, adding that the Mechanism should henceforth be funded by its regular budget.
The representative of the United States, noting his Government had increased its funding of the Mechanism by $2 million, also voiced support for funding from the regular budget through assessed contributions. Recent arrests of Bashar al‑Assad regime officials in Germany and France demonstrated the valuable role outside documentation can play, he added, calling also for accountability in the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
In a similar vein, Turkey’s delegate affirmed that “today’s meeting is an important opportunity for us to tell Syrians there will be accountability for the pain, loss and misery”. He applauded the strengthened cooperation among the Mechanism and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria and civil society, pointing to its vital role in ensuring that impunity does not take root in post-conflict Syria.
However, Syria’s representative challenged the legality of the so-called Mechanism, emphasizing that his participation in today’s debate must not be interpreted in any way as recognition of an illegal body. The adoption of General Assembly resolution 71/248 marked a serious violation of Article 12 of the United Nations Charter, which stipulates that the Assembly shall not make recommendations with regards to a dispute on the Security Council’s agenda. With the political situation in Syria at a critical and fragile stage, he stressed that promoting the Mechanism risks putting a question mark over the United Nations role as a facilitator of the peace process.
Echoing that view, the Russian Federation’s delegate said the Mechanism should not exist in the first place. Syria did not request the United Nations assistance in investigating crimes committed on their territory, she pointed out, adding that criminal investigation is a Security Council prerogative. Funding the Mechanism from the regular budget must not be up for discussion as its establishment is nothing but a political scheme, she stated.
The representative of Iran said it is the responsibility of the Syrian Government to bring terrorists — including foreign terrorist fighters — to justice, with the United Nations assisting. “We are not convinced as to how the establishment of a mechanism without consultation with or involvement of the country concerned would be practical or would bear meaningful results,” he said, adding that evidence could only be collected, substantiated and preserved in Syria.
Nonetheless, Qatar’s delegate underlined that the Mechanism’s role derives from the fact that legal guarantees in Syria are insufficient. The Mechanism should take a comprehensive approach to its work and become an exemplary model for accountability, she said, adding that predictable funding through the regular budget would ensure its credibility and independence.
Croatia’s representative, speaking on behalf of a group of like-minded countries, welcomed today’s debate, saying it reflected the wider United Nations membership’s principled commitment to justice for serious crimes in Syria. Accountability and transitional justice based on due process are prerequisites for lasting peace, he said, and all those responsible for breaches of international law must be held accountable.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary, while saluting Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey for hosting millions of Syrian refugees, also welcomed the fact that about 90 per cent of the areas controlled by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) have been liberated. Therefore, it was now high time for the international community to set a new target, that of assisting refugees to return home.
At the start of the meeting, the General Assembly observed a moment of silence for victims of the terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka on 21 April.
Also speaking today were representatives of Italy, Norway (for the Nordic countries), Kuwait, Canada, Czech Republic, Argentina, France, Slovakia, Switzerland, Slovenia, Belgium, Ireland, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Brazil, Germany, Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Estonia, China, Georgia, Venezuela, Japan, Myanmar, Cuba, New Zealand, Mexico, Ukraine and Peru.
Introduction of Report
CATHERINE MARCHI-UHEL, Head of the International Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Persons Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011, presented the Mechanism’s third report (document A/73/741). Emphasizing the need to swiftly collect, consolidate and preserve information and evidence of the vast range of crimes committed on all sides, she stressed that “the time to prepare for justice is not a distant future, but right now”. By creating the Mechanism, States sent an unequivocal message to perpetrators on all sides, especially those in a position of power, that the international community will not stand idly by in the face of atrocities.
The Mechanism is a new model of international criminal justice, born from the Security Council’s inability to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court, she continued. It also represents an opportunity to address some weaknesses in the existing international criminal law framework. Since May, the Mechanism has gathered more than a million records and its collection is growing exponentially as it incorporates whole databases. Meanwhile, 23 requests for assistance have been received from war crimes units and national judiciaries, she said, adding that the rate of such requests is expected to increase going forward.
The Mechanism is dealing with a conflict “where there is probably more video footage than an individual could watch in a lifetime”, she pointed out, observing that it is building a central repository of information and evidence, using state‑of-the-art technology to categorize, de-duplicate, secure and retrieve material. It is also adopting a flexible approach to maximize the chances that its analytical and casefile‑building work will assist recipient jurisdictions. Two case files have been opened, including one that relates to ongoing proceedings in a national jurisdiction. Emphasizing her commitment to ensure that gender perspectives are incorporated in all the Mechanism’s work, she underscored that the Mechanism’s work will take time. It is making the best possible use of economies of scale and deploying resources as effectively as possibly. Preparatory work to ensure sustainable funding for the Mechanism has been completed, she noted, calling on States to continue to support its transition to the Organization’s regular budget.
Many States, mainly from the Western European and Others Group, as well as international organizations, United Nations actors and Syrian non-governmental organizations, have entered into frameworks with the Mechanism to allow the swift transfer of information and evidence, she said. She asked that all Member States similarly share information and evidence and facilitate access to victims and witnesses, and reiterated an invitation to Syria cooperate with the Mechanism. The Mechanism is now a reality and a novel model with significant potential. It is an opportunity to consolidate, process, preserve and analyse large volumes of information and evidence; to prepare the groundwork for comprehensive justice under United Nations auspices; to assist in investigations and prosecutions; and to embody the will of the General Assembly that there can be no sustainable peace without justice and that impunity for crimes committed in Syria is only temporary.
PÉTER SZIJJÁRTÓ, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary, said that the massive influx of illegal migrants into his country and Europe is creating security challenges. The magic expression used in Europe is “tackling the root causes”. To be honest, he pointed out, the international community has failed to prevent conflicts and massacres that force millions of people to flee. The war in Syria has ended up as one of the worst humanitarian tragedies. Saluting Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey for hosting millions of Syrian refugees, he underlined the need for efforts to keep refugees as close to their homes as possible so that their returns are realistically achievable.
Welcoming the fact that about 90 per cent of the areas controlled by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) have been liberated, he stressed that it is high time for the international community to set a new target, which is to assist refugees to return home. His Government supports a peaceful solution in Syria. The return of refugees requires efforts to ensure enabling physical, legal and security arrangements, he said, adding that Hungary has been a strong supporter of the Mechanism since the beginning. In addition, he warned against Christianophobia, which he described as the last form of discrimination to become unacceptable. In fact, he pointed out that Christians, particularly in certain Middle East countries, have become the most persecuted group in recent times.
VLADIMIR DROBNJAK (Croatia), speaking on behalf of a group of like-minded countries, welcomed today’s debate on the Mechanism, which reflects the continued principled commitment of the wider United Nations membership to justice for serious crimes in Syria. Accountability and transitional justice based on due process that facilitates a genuine national reconciliation are a prerequisite for lasting peace in Syria. All those responsible for breaches of international law, some of which may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity, must be held accountable, including those committing crimes against religious, ethnic and other groups of minorities.
He went on to say that the group will continue to support the documentation of human rights and other violations and efforts to gather evidence in view of future legal action and calls for the referral of the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. Increased cooperation between the Court and the Mechanism is crucial. They must be equipped with sufficient, predictable and sustainable financial resources.
CHRISTIAN WENAWESER (Liechtenstein), also speaking on behalf of other like‑minded countries, said the Mechanism had been created both in response to the atrocities committed daily in Syria and the collective shame and frustration over the inaction of the Security Council. Accountability is not only necessary, but possible, he stressed, noting that the Mechanism has already produced two case files, galvanizing efforts of the international community to fight impunity for those atrocities. However, the Mechanism is not a court, leaving an important void to be filled. He, therefore, thanked all States that have undertaken criminal proceedings in their national courts on the principle of universal jurisdiction.
Noting that two permanent members of the Security Council have blocked the path to the International Criminal Court, he underscored that the Court had been created 20 years ago for precisely the type of situation that has evolved in Syria. The General Assembly has ample space to adopt important and politically relevant decisions to restore its role as the central policy-making body of the United Nations. The Mechanism should henceforth be funded by its regular budget.
ALYA AHMED SAIF AL-THANI (Qatar), associating herself with Liechtenstein, said the Mechanism’s role derives from the fact that legal guarantees in Syria are insufficient. The third report highlights the progress made in the implementation of the Mechanism’s mandate as the central depositary of information and evidence regarding crimes committed in Syria. The Mechanism should take a comprehensive approach to its work and become an exemplary model for accountability. Qatar contributed $1 million to the Mechanism for this year, she noted, voicing support for its funding to be included the regular budget from 2020. This would ensure both predictable funding while ensuring the Mechanism’s credibility and independence.
AMMAR AL ARSAN (Syria) said his participation in today’s debate must not be interpreted as Syria’s recognition of the so-called Mechanism, which has been and always will be an illegal body that means nothing to his country. He drew attention to his delegation’s letter to the Secretary-General dated 12 November 2018 (document A/73/562) and its annexed legal study proving that the General Assembly resolution establishing the so-called Mechanism was adopted as the result of an exclusionary process led by two delegations. The adoption of General Assembly resolution 71/248 was a serious violation of Article 12 of the United Nations Charter, which stipulates that the Assembly shall not make recommendations with regard to a dispute on the Security Council’s agenda unless the Security Council so requests. The Council has been and remains fully involved in the situation in Syria. Articles 10, 11, 12 and 22 of the Charter explicitly set out the Assembly’s mandate and powers. Therefore, this Mechanism cannot be considered a subsidiary body of the Assembly; it has no legal status or legal personality.
Any information and evidence collected by the so-called Mechanism cannot be regarded as valid in any legal proceedings, he continued, citing resolution 2379 (2017), in which the Council, in consultation with the Government directly concerned, established an investigation team to support Iraq’s domestic efforts to hold Da’esh accountable for war crimes. Emphasizing that the political situation in Syria is at a critical, fragile and difficult stage, he said the promotion of the so-called Mechanism risks putting a question mark over the professionalism of the United Nations as a facilitator of the peace process. Syria rejects any pretext that the Mechanism is not linked to the peace process, he added, calling on Assembly members to defend multilateralism, respect international relations, uphold the United Nations Charter, examine the legal evidence put forward by Syria and consider the political motives of those behind the so-called Mechanism.
STEFANO STEFANILE (Italy), associating himself with Croatia and Liechtenstein, underscored his country’s full support for the work of former and current Special Envoys for Syria; full implementation of Security Council resolution 2254 (2015) remains the only way to end the crisis. True national reconciliation and lasting peace can only be achieved through accountability for justice. The Mechanism makes an important contribution in documenting atrocities, collecting evidence and preparing cases. In that regard, he welcomed the report on the activities of the Mechanism. Italy, which contributed significantly to the Mechanism in 2018, will do so in 2019, he said, adding that he welcomed efforts to fund the Mechanism from the regular budget from 2020.
MONA JUUL (Norway) speaking for the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Sweden), called for justice for the thousands of people who vanished, lost their loved ones, were tortured, starved and gassed, or forced to flee their homes. It is deeply concerning that the flagrant disregard of international law and systematic violations of human rights and international humanitarian law continue in Syria, overwhelmingly perpetrated by the Syrian regime. “Without accountability and transitional justice, a lasting peace remains out of reach. Those responsible for international crimes must be brought to justice,” she stressed.
She went on to say that the Nordic countries strongly support the accountability agenda and the establishment of the Mechanism. Underscoring that a referral of the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court is the best option to achieve accountability, she expressed regret over the impasse in the Security Council on the matter. Welcoming the Secretary-General’s announcement to include the necessary funding for the Mechanism in the regular budget proposal for 2020, she emphasized that the Mechanism is too important to rely purely on voluntary contributions.
Mr. HASIMFAR (Iran) voiced his support for combating impunity, ensuring accountability and preparing grounds for the administration of justice in a non‑selective and inclusive manner. Unfortunately, past experiences have shown that the United Nations has not been able to preserve a coherent and just approach towards the prevention of conflict and ending impunity. It is the responsibility of the Syrian Government to bring to justice terrorists, including foreign terrorist fighters. The United Nations should assist the Syrian Government in that direction. The Mechanism was created in violation of the United Nations Charter, particularly Article 2.7, by intervening in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of a Member State. “We are not convinced as to how the establishment of a mechanism without consultation with or involvement of the country concerned would be practical or would bear meaningful results,” he said. Evidence could only be collected, substantiated and preserved in Syria, not in Switzerland. Crimes committed in Syria should be prosecuted in Syria. It is obvious that the Mechanism has been created for the advancement of a political agenda under the disguise of a quest for justice.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) said that the conflict in Syria has entered its ninth year, representing “another year of impunity”. Violations of international law, including use of prohibited weapons such as chemical agents, have continued, as has impunity. Impunity has made headlines for violations of international human rights law, humanitarian law, as well as General Assembly and Security Council resolutions. His country supported the establishment of the Mechanism by making voluntary contributions and will continue to support it. It is important to fund the Mechanism from the United Nations regular budget. The only solution is a political one based on resolution 2254 (2015).
RICHARD ARBEITER (Canada) said the crimes being committed in Syria, including the use of chemical weapons, are a clear violation of international norms and standards. The state of impunity for crimes committed by Da’esh and the Syrian regime is unacceptable, and the international community cannot allow it to be normalized. The Mechanism is a critical tool for holding to account perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Noting that, in February, Canada’s contribution to the Mechanism was increased to $2.9 million, he urged States to support its critical work both through voluntary funding for 2019 and for inclusion in the regular United Nations budget in 2020. With Syrians still subject to arbitrary arrest, overwhelmingly undertaken by the Syrian regime, he called on all parties to the conflict to comply with international humanitarian law.
MARK A. SIMONOFF (United States), noting his Government had increased its funding of the Mechanism by $2 million, expressed his unwavering commitment to accountability in Syria to ensure a stable, just and enduring peace. He also voiced his support for funding from the United Nations regular budget through assessed contributions and applauded the Mechanism’s commitment to ensuring that Syrian women and girls’ voices be integrated in the pursuit of justice. Recent arrests of Bashar al-Assad regime officials in Germany and France demonstrate the valuable role outside documentation can play in supporting justice processes in countries other than Syria. Calling for accountability in the use of chemical weapons in Syria, he expressed his strong support for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in its efforts to identify perpetrators. Stating that the Assad regime had met Syrians’ peaceful demands for respect of their human rights and fundamental freedoms with barrel bombs, chemical weapons, starvation, sexual violence, torture, arbitrary detention and denial of fair trial, he said numerous United Nations reports have documented acts that amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. His Government remains committed to holding perpetrators of atrocities in Syria accountable, he emphasized, adding that he rejects the notion that the Mechanism had been established in violation of the United Nations Charter.
MARIE CHATARDOVÁ (Czech Republic), welcoming the Mechanism’s clear focus on collection and analysis, said that structural investigation is a relevant part of determining individual criminal responsibility. Utmost attention must be paid to upholding criminal law standards when dealing with evidence, she said, posing the question if knowledge gained by the Mechanism might be shared in order to help combat organized crime. Having voluntarily contributed to the Mechanism’s budget, the Czech Republic strongly supports its funding from the regular budget, she added.
MARTÍN GARCÍA MORITÁN (Argentina), recalling his delegation’s vote in favour of resolution 71/248, said a United Nations accountability instrument should be funded from the regular budget to guarantee its impartiality and independence. However, it should also take into account the Organization’s complicated financial situation. Emphasizing that there can only be a political solution to the conflict, he reaffirmed Argentina’s recognition of Syria’s sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) noted the many challenges facing the Mechanism, including the volume and diversity of evidence to be processed, as well as securing funding. His Government had contributed to its funding in 2018 and will do so in 2019. Welcoming progress made, including the opening of two case files, he also saluted the work of non-governmental organizations carrying out essential tasks of documenting atrocities. These bodies must operate in a complementary fashion. He appealed to States to support the Mechanism and invited national jurisdictions to cooperate. France and Germany are doing so by issuing arrest warrants. Justice is a condition for peace and stabilization in Syria. Conditions are not ripe for the voluntary, safe and dignified return of refugees and internally displaced persons. Progress on the political process is crucial to the reconstruction of the country.
RICHARD GALBAVÝ (Slovakia), aligning himself with Croatia, said that, with the establishment of the Mechanism, the Assembly had decided to take action in the face of endless accounts of horrific crimes committed on Syrian territory. With the Syrian conflict in its ninth year, a functioning Mechanism is more relevant than ever — given the need to ensure accountability, including a victim-centred approach — in achieving any lasting solution. The Mechanism is a “pioneer structure” in international efforts to collect, analyse and preserve evidence, strengthening the rule of law and due process. The 14 requests for assistance from national war crimes units received during the period covered by the second and third reports proves the value of the Mechanism. To avoid impairing its work, it should be funded from the regular United Nations budget from 2020 forward.
JÜRG LAUBER (Switzerland) welcomed the progress made by the Mechanism, including the opening of two case files and enhanced cooperation with national jurisdictions investigating some of the most serious crimes committed in Syria. A process is under way in Switzerland to amend the legislative framework to facilitate cooperation with the Mechanism and other non-State criminal-law institutions. Civil society also plays a critical role in documenting crimes there. Since the Mechanism’s inception, Switzerland has contributed $2.4 million, he said, also voicing his support for the measures taken by the Secretary-General to fund the Mechanism from the United Nations regular budget starting in 2020. As the host State, his country will continue to support the Mechanism.
ONDINA BLOKAR DROBIČ (Slovenia), associating herself with Croatia and Liechtenstein, said the Mechanism represents a collective commitment by Member States to help ensure credible and comprehensive accountability for crimes committed during the conflict in Syria. She said she is happy to see it is operational and responding to requests for evidence, and that its funding will be part of the regular budget from 2020. Securing regular budget funding demonstrates the international community’s genuine commitment to justice for victims of crimes in Syria.
MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium), associating himself with Croatia and Liechtenstein, said that, thanks to the Mechanism, violations of international law will not be concealed. Welcoming progress made and the opening of two case files, he underscored that such efforts are a shared responsibility for the international community. His Government is revising legislation to cooperate with the Mechanism. The evidence collected by the now-defunct Joint Investigative Mechanism should be transferred to the Mechanism. Belgium is among the largest financial contributors to the Mechanism. However, its long-term success depends on durable funding, he said, inviting States to support the Secretary-General’s proposal to fund the Mechanism from the regular budget in 2020 and onwards. Syrians cannot envisage peace as long as impunity remains a norm.
FERIDUN HADI SINIRLIOĞLU (Turkey) noted that, on 15 March 2011, the Syrian people overcame their fear and stood up against dictatorship. Since then, they have endured unthinkable agony, including aerial bombing, the use of prohibited cluster and incendiary bombs and chemical weapons, psychological and physical torture, arbitrary detention and abduction, sexual abuse and long-term sieges without access to humanitarian aid. “Today’s meeting is an important opportunity for us to tell Syrians there will be accountability for the pain, loss and misery,” he said. He applauded the strengthened cooperation between the Mechanism and OPCW, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria, and civil society, pointing to its vital role in ensuring that impunity does not take root in post-conflict Syria. Fourteen requests for assistance from national war crimes units offered further proof of its value. He voiced his strong support for the allocation of adequate resources from the United Nations regular budget as of 2020.
GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland) emphasized the need for a political solution and the importance of a United Nations-led political process where accountability is key. She welcomed that due focus is being given to gathering evidence on sexual and gender-based crimes, as these victims are often overlooked. Thanking Liechtenstein for its continued commitment to the Mechanism, she said that Ireland doubled its funding in 2018 to €200,000 and will at least match that figure in 2019. Reiterating a call for the situation in Syria to be referred to the International Criminal Court, she affirmed that without accountability for crimes committed on all sides, there can be no genuine reconciliation and lasting peace in Syria.
KIM SONG (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), said the Mechanism’s establishment is a typical example of politicization, double standards and selectivity. Nothing can justify its work under the umbrella of the United Nations. Emphasizing that the peace process in Syria should be spearheaded by the Syrian people, he said the United Nations should not be subjected to political and financial pressures from some countries. Rather, the Organization should preserve its neutrality and credibility as a facilitator of that process.
ELENA MELIKBEKYAN (Russian Federation) recalled that her delegation voted against the General Assembly resolution establishing the Mechanism. The body is illegitimate and should not exist in the first place. It is regrettable that the Assembly is spending time to debate on the activities of the Mechanism. Syria did not request the United Nations assistance in investigating crimes committed on their territory. The United Nations intervened in violation of its Charter. Criminal investigation is not under the prerogative of the Assembly, but under the Security Council. In exceptional cases, the Assembly can consider the matter with consent from the State concerned. The work done by the Mechanism has no legal standing and therefore should not be used for any legal proceedings. Funding the Mechanism from the regular budget must not be up to discussion as the establishment of the body is nothing but a political scheme, she stated, adding that her Government will not cooperate with the Mechanism.
MAURO VIEIRA (Brazil) welcomed efforts undertaken by the Mechanism, as the preservation of evidence is instrumental in bringing perpetrators to justice. The hope for future accountability depends on impartial, non-selective evidence gathered on the ground. He pointed out that the current report clarifies that the Mechanism only shares information after assessing whether the recipient jurisdiction respects international human rights law, including fair trial. In order to avoid “in absentia” trials based on questionable claims of universal jurisdiction, information-sharing must be limited to those States that either have a jurisdictional link to the crimes or have the alleged criminal in their territory. He commended the Mechanism for its commitment to a victim-centred approach and its support for broader transitional justice objectives.
KERSTIN PUERSCHEL (Germany), associating herself with Croatia, condemned all violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed in Syria. Since 2011, the German General Federal Prosecutor has investigated the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Syria. Several verdicts have been passed. As a result of close French-German cooperation, important steps towards justice and reconciliation for the victims have been taken, including the international arrest warrant against Jamil al Hassan, former Head of the Syrian Air Force Intelligence Directorate, as well as the arrest of two former Syrian secret service members in February in Germany. She welcomed the memorandum of understanding between the Mechanism and OPCW, facilitating the Mechanism’s access to information collected by OPCW.
LISE GREGOIRE VAN HAAREN (Netherlands), aligning herself with Croatia and Liechtenstein, said the message from the Assembly was loud and clear: there needs to be justice for the serious crimes committed in Syria. The country is the most poignant modern example of the effects of impunity. The regime that cannot be held to account will continue its degrading behavior, with prolonged suffering on the ground and the risk of severely undermining international law and order. She cited the need to ensure accountability, as the primary responsibility of a State is to respect and ensure human rights of all individuals within its territory. Failure to investigate and prosecute those responsible for international crimes makes that an obligation of the international community. Turning to the importance of sustainable funding, she noted her Government has contributed €5 million to support the Mechanism. She called on the international community to strengthen cooperation throughout the whole United Nations system. As ensuring accountability for the most heinous crimes may take many years, each Member State must remain determined and patient in its pursuit.
KHALED MOHAMMED H. ALMANZLAWIY (Saudi Arabia), welcoming the debate on the activities of the Mechanism, said that, under the yoke of oppression, Syrian people continue to suffer. There is no peace without justice, he said, noting that the establishment of the Mechanism reflected inaction in the Security Council. There is a lost generation of children who remain out of school. There are forgotten detainees and men and women who continue to suffocate due to chemical weapons. The Syrian Government has been found to be responsible for use of these weapons. Syrian people’s rights have been violated by terrorism and political arrogance. Only transparency can serve justice.
LEEGA PIISKOP (Estonia), aligning herself with Croatia and Liechtenstein, said the Mechanism, with its mandate to collect evidence of the most serious crimes committed by the Syrian regime, needs the continued support of the international community. Her Government has pledged to help relocate Syrian war refugees and contribute humanitarian aid funding. However, a political solution cannot allow those who have perpetrated atrocities to escape accountability. The Security Council should refer the situation to the International Criminal Court, she said, calling on all parties to the conflict to demonstrate a sense of responsibility and fully cooperate with the Mechanism in documenting human rights violations and gathering evidence. Furthermore, in order for the Mechanism to perform its mandate efficiently, it must be funded by the regular United Nations budget.
CHENG LIE (China) said that the United Nations continues to play a mediation role in ending the conflict in Syria. While he opposes all violations and crimes committed in Syria, he stressed that the country’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity and independence must be respected. In that regard, China’s stance on the Mechanism remains unchanged. It was created without consent from the country concerned. Acknowledging Member States’ differing views on the Mechanism, he said he did not support the measures to fund the Mechanism from the regular budget. Only a political solution in line with the principles of the United Nations Charter leads to peace in Syria. In that regard, the Syrian-led and Syrian-own solution is vital.
GIORGI MIKELADZE (Georgia) said that, in creating the Mechanism, the Assembly demonstrated the important role it can play when action in the Security Council is blocked. He condemned the Assad regime for hindering investigations, disregarding the recommendations of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria and refusing to comply with its obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law. Georgia strongly supports funding the Mechanism through the regular budget, he said, adding that the Mechanism, together with the Commission, will expedite fair and independent criminal proceedings in line with international standards.
LILIANA JOSEFINA MATOS JUÁREZ (Venezuela), expressing her commitment to tackling impunity for the worst crimes, emphasized that she did not accept the establishment of the Mechanism, as the Security Council is the only body empowered to establish binding tribunals. The Mechanism represented an attempt by the General Assembly to take over matters that belong to the sovereignty of States. Syria had not requested the establishment of the Mechanism, which is a flagrant interference in its internal affairs. National reconciliation efforts by that Government are at an important stage and the Mechanism would interfere with and hinder them. She added her support to those who reject funding the Mechanism from the United Nations regular budget.
TAKUMA SAKAGUCHI (Japan) said it is very important that those responsible for crimes and human rights violations are held accountable. He commended the progress made by the Mechanism since its inception in 2017 and welcomed the expansion of its activities. He also noted that he expected the Mechanism to enhance its cooperation with other existing mechanisms and institutions.
AYE THIDAR MYO (Myanmar) emphasized that it is unacceptable for some Member States to use the United Nations to serve their own political agendas. The decision to establish the Mechanism is beyond the mandate of the Assembly, she said, adding that its funding through the regular budget would put a significant burden on the Organization’s scarce resources. Moreover, the Mechanism’s terms of reference intrude on the domestic jurisdiction of a sovereign country.
HUMBERTO RIVERO ROSARIO (Cuba) noted his Government had voted against the resolution establishing the Mechanism, as it deliberately disregards the principles that established and underpin the United Nations itself. It represents a move unprecedented in United Nations history and an affront to the norms and principles of international law. It clearly circumvents the basic functions of Member States and the legal system of Syria. Its illegality is clear, in that its mandate exceeds the functions conferred on the General Assembly. The Mechanism has been granted functions similar to those of a prosecutor to link evidence and perpetrators and is legally arbitrary. Noting that the same body may not be judge and party to the same proceedings, he said there is no way to ensure the Mechanism’s impartiality given the voluntary funding supporting it. Stating the Mechanism was flawed and inconsistent from the outset, he said the United Nations regular budget should not be used to fund it.
CRAIG JOHN HAWKE (New Zealand) stressed the importance of working collectively against impunity for the horrific crimes committed in Syria and the critical role of the Mechanism therein. Highlighting the opening of two case files — on the road to establishing individual criminal accountability — he welcomed the Mechanism’s efforts to integrate gender into its work, urging the inclusion of sexual orientation, gender identity, children and persons with disabilities. Noting that his Government has contributed to voluntary funding, he further echoed calls for sustainable funding drawn from the United Nations regular budget as of 2020. “The work to be undertaken by the Mechanism is immense”, and must be provided with the resources it needs to do the work it has been set up to do, he said.
PABLO ADRIÁN ARROCHA OLABUENAGA (Mexico) expressed continued support for the Mechanism as accountability is vital to sustaining peace. The international accountability mechanism had not effectively addressed war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Syria. Noting that the work of the Mechanism has led to the opening of two case files, he called for enhanced cooperation with various interlocutors, including States and United Nations institutions, and national jurisdictions. Because the Mechanism’s work has been affected by the lack of a guaranteed budget, he added his support for funding of the Mechanism to be included in the regular budget so that it can fulfil its mandate. Warning of paralysis in the Security Council, which has failed to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court at the cost of civilian lives, he called for restricting veto power in case of atrocity crimes.
YURIY VITRENKO (Ukraine), aligning himself with Liechtenstein, said the people of Syria have suffered enough. Establishing accountability for crimes committed on Syrian soil since the beginning of the eight-year brutal conflict is not only a core element of the universal rule of law, but a moral obligation of the international community towards its victims. There had been too many occasions where allies of the Syrian regime, particularly permanent members of the Security Council, had abused their powers to prevent justice. “My own country, Ukraine, is a victim of Russia’s veto obsession,” he said. The Mechanism is necessary and relevant at a time of impasse in the Security Council. Its primary mandate is to document as many violations and abuses of international law in Syria as possible. He echoed calls for funding from the United Nations regular budget, as in the case for the Mechanism concerning Myanmar.
LUIS UGARELLI (Peru) said the Mechanism reflected the firm goal of the General Assembly to speak out in the face of Security Council inaction. The Mechanism had led to the preservation of evidence and links to perpetrators. It was also further effective given the granting of specific attention to sexual and gender-based violence. He called for increased cooperation among the Mechanism, United Nations, States and civil society. It must be assured of adequate funding. Reaffirming his support that perpetrators of grave violations of human rights and international law be held accountable, he said that the promotion and protection of human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law are basic preconditions for the function of States and societies.