Del Ponte said that the role of the UN in the war in Syria had actually to do only with humanitarian aid. The UN has done nothing to bring peace to Syria, she said.
ANF talked with Carla Del Ponte, former Swiss attorney general and a former member of the United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, about the UN’s eight year practice on Syria, why the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Syria are not dealt with, the Turkish state’s presence in Syria and ongoing invasion attacks against North-East Syria and trial of ISIS members.
Ms Del Ponte, in spite of your important work, you resigned from the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria in 2017. Why?
After five years in the commission, I had two reasons to resign. The first was that, despite our important work and reports, the UN Security Council did not establish an international court to investigate all war crimes committed in Syria. We wanted to get justice for the victims in Syria, but this was not allowed and in the sense, we failed.
Secondly, the existence of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, was very important to reveal and clarify all the crimes committed on the field. But later these crimes were not pursued or an investigation against the perpetrators was not initiated as planned. I resigned to protest that this commission would not justify its existence and that the UN Security Council did not seek justice for the victims and crimes committed in Syria.
How do you assess the UN’s role in the Syrian civil war?
The role of the UN in the war in Syria had actually to do only with humanitarian aid. The UN has done nothing to bring peace to Syria. The UN initially wanted to hold talks in Geneva, but failed. While the Syrian government did not want to participate in these talks, the opposition groups did not accept many things. Even worse, a little later ISIS and extremists began to emerge in Syria.
This situation was not taken into consideration at the early stage. The UN Security Council has not made major decisions to ensure peace in Syria. This did not surprise me because if the UN does not renew itself it will end up with less and less power. If we want to achieve peace in the world, an important institution like the UN must renew itself. Unfortunately, the UN cannot do more than providing humanitarian aid at this stage. I say the UN must definitely renew itself. But it is very difficult because some states are not in favour of this.
You talked about the war crimes carried out frequently in Syria both during and after your role in the commission, who carried out these crimes?
The experience I have gained from the work I have done in the conflict process has shown me that all parties have carried out war crimes and crimes against humanity in conflict or war environments.
As for Syria, the Syrian regime, dissidents and jihadist groups have all carried out war and crimes against humanity. As Commission, we have documento all the crimes carried out in Syria in the reports we prepared at that time and we have indicated who was responsible for them.
After 8 years of unsuccessful Geneva talks, the Syrian Constitutional Committee is meeting under the UN supervision. UN Special Representative in Syria Geir Pedersen, who led the meetings, considered this a success. Do you agree with him?
Unfortunately, I have not seen any success to date. Yes, meetings are currently being held in Geneva, but we haven’t seen anything positive outcome yet. Although the regime participation in these meetings is positive, I would say that we should not expect a successful outcome of these meetings.
As in the Geneva talks, the Kurds were not invited to the Syrian Constitutional Committee meetings, how do you evaluate this?
I don’t know why the Kurds have not been invited. Kurds should be invited to these meetings and be active in these meetings. Kurds actively fought against ISIS alongside the US. But today the very US has given up on Kurds.The worst of this being that Kurds have been left alone to face the attacks carried out by Turkey. Kurds are facing a delicate process, but unfortunately, the international community is not interested in the problems faced by the Kurds.
How do you assess Turkey’s role in the civil war in Syria?
Turkey took an anti-regime attitude at the beginning of the war. It opened its borders, allowing the opposition to cross into Syria, allowing them to go and support these groups. Later, Turkey got together with Russia, which is supporting Syria, and began to change its role in Syria.
Although the change in policy, it appears clear that Turkey, and especially Erdogan, will always consider the Kurds of Syria as a major problem. Using border security, Turkey has committed serious violations of international law, such as entering another country’s territory. Entering into Syria made Turkey a direct partner in the war. This is a very serious violation of international law.
Today, the Turkish state is carrying out an occupation attack on North East Syria, hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced and hundreds of people have lost their lives. How do you evaluate this situation?
The Turkish state wants to expel the Kurds from the region, using border security as a reason for it, while this has never been a problem or a threat. Against this background, what surprised me most was the fact that the international community, and especially the UN, did not take a clear position against Turkey violation of international law. What’s more, the fact that they did not protect Kurds from Turkey attacks made me very sad and angry. The situation for the Kurds is very, very bad, and the international community and the UN have to intervene.
Do you mean the West has betrayed the Kurds?
Yes, definitely. This is a very bad situation. I think there should be a solution to the situation of the Kurds in a very short time. But I’m sorry, it’s not being done. It is unacceptable to leave the Kurds alone where there is a solution to this situation. An acceptable solution should be found.
Everyone says that Turkey has violated international law in front of everyone’s eyes, yet somehow the international community or the UN prefers to remain silent on this situation, why?
Good question. But I’m sorry I don’t know the answer. I can say this: politics and interests have prevented important tasks such as the protection of the victimized peoples, international law and human rights.
Do you think Turkish President Erdoğan, or Turkey are responsible of war crimes in Syria?
As I said before, I think the Turkish state and Erdoğan are committing war crimes in Syria. Syrian territory is being occupied with some groups, and today, crimes are committed in North East Syria. An investigation should be launched about this, but unfortunately this has not been done for 8 years and there is no search for justice.
What should be done against these war crimes?
First, the UN Security Council should establish an international court. But Russia, as before, continue to oppose this.
Could an International Criminal Court prosecute Erdoğan?
The UN Security Council cannot initiate an investigation without the approval of the ICC because we know that Turkey has signed the Treaty of Rome. The UN Security Council must therefore make a decision for this to happen.
There is much talk about the help provided by Turkey to jihadist groups in Syria. What would you comment on this?
Yes, the first years of the war, Turkey was doing it openly. But after agreeing with Russia, it began to change its position. At first, it was helping many jihadists groups, for example, allowing fighters to pass, sending weapons, and supporting them.
Which jihadist groups was this support provided for?
I cannot distinguish which groups exactly it has provided help but at first it was for al-Nusra and some other groups. This is no secret, everyone knows it anyway.
Can the Syrian Kurds take the war crimes committed against them to the International Criminal Court?
Unfortunately, I am of the opinion that Kurds will not have such a right because they don’t have a state. These crimes could be taken to the Hague though. Turkish presence on Syrian lands is a violation of international law. Kurds may not be able to do this directly but Syria, as a state, could take the crimes committed by the Turkish state in its territory to the Hague.
Another important issue is that thousands of ISIS members continue to be held in detention centers under the Autonomous Administration control. Western states do not want to take back these mercenaries. How would you comment on this?
First of all, I believe that European states have to take back their citizens and subject them to investigation. to my way of thinking, them not wanting to do this, is wrong. We know that Kurds have arrested quite a number of jihadists and terrorists but unfortunately the Kurds don’t have a judicial power to bring them to justice under these circumstances. It is a great problem to put all this burden on the Kurds.
I do know that Kurds are faced with big trouble because of this situation. We had informed the Security Council on this matter while I worked for the commission but that yielded no results either, I am afraid. The European Union should finally find a solution. Every state must make a decision but they don’t want this. This attitude, in my opinion, is just a great mistake.
Don’t you think that an international tribunal could be established in North-East Syria for the trial of these mercenaries? Kurds also have such a demand.
That is indeed possible but this decision must be taken by the UN security Council. This is a political situation as much as it is possible. Still, an international tribunal could well be established outside of Syria to bring those people to justice.
by Serkan Demirel, ANF