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EU Renews Syria Sanctions, Makes Amends To Protect Civilians

UN investigator Carla del Ponte says that "it is time" for the International Criminal Court to probe war crimes in Syria.
UN investigator Carla del Ponte says that "it is time" for the International Criminal Court to probe war crimes in Syria.
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By RFE/RL
The European Union has renewed sanctions against Syria, while amending them to enable member states to provide more "nonlethal" support to help protect civilians.

EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton announced the decision in a statement at the end of the meeting of the bloc's foreign ministers in Brussels on February 18.

"Today we also agreed to extend the sanctions against Syria for a further three months and we are amending them so as to enable greater nonlethal support and technical assistance for the protection of civilians," Ashton said.

"We will, of course, continue to assess and review the sanctions regime, if necessary, to support and help the opposition and ensure that we are providing the best we can for the people on the ground."

The move was a compromise after weeks of disagreement.

Britain, supported by Italy, was pushing for an easing of the arms embargo to help rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad, while other EU countries were opposed to letting more weapons into the country.

Though the arms embargo was maintained, the agreement to boost "nonlethal" support and "technical assistance" means more support for the opposition Syrian National Coalition.

Del Ponte: Bring In ICC

Meanwhile, UN investigator Carla del Ponte said on February 18 "it is time" for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to probe war crimes in Syria.

Del Ponte, a former UN war crimes prosecutor and a member of the UN-mandated commission of inquiry on the Syria conflict, told a news briefing on February 18 that the commission was pushing the international community to refer the Syrian violence to the ICC for prosecution.

"It is time that a tribunal, and in particular the international tribunal -- we have a permanent court, the International Criminal Court -- [took up] this case," she said

Del Ponte indicted that investigators were following the chain of command to establish the responsibility of "high political and military suspects" in the crimes.

She made her comments hours after the commission released a report on the situation in Syria after almost two years of conflict.

The 131-page report said both government forces and armed rebels fighting to topple Assad are committing war crimes, including killings and torture.

According to the independent team, led by Brazilian Paulo Pinheiro, government forces have carried out shelling and aerial bombardments across Syria.

It said some of the attacks have targeted queues at bakeries and funeral processions, and were aimed at "spreading terror among the civilian population."

It added that Syrians in "leadership positions" who may be responsible for war crimes have been identified, along with units suspected of carrying out the atrocities.

Investigators also accused rebel forces of causing "considerable civilian casualties" and using children under the age of 15 in hostilities.

But Del Ponte maintained that the commission faced challenges in documenting crimes committed by Syrian opposition forces.

"It is important that we can go to Syria for the crimes committed by the opponents [of the government," she said. "We have more facilities investigating, outside [of Syria], the crimes committed by the government, under the responsibility of the government, but we have some difficulty [investigating] crimes committed by the opponents, by the rebels."

The report called on the UN Security Council to "act urgently" and refer those who had committed crimes to the ICC.

Next month, the commission plans to submit a confidential list of suspects to the UN human rights office.

According to UN estimates, the fighting in Syria has already claimed around 70,000 lives.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP

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