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ICC war crime requests for Syria "untimely"-Russian official

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 19 Feb 2013 15:21 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* U.N. investigators say war crime suspects should face ICC

* Russian official says this would not be constructive (Adds more quotes, Arab League meeting in Moscow)

By Gabriela Baczynska

MOSCOW, Feb 19 (Reuters) - A senior Russian official said on Tuesday that Moscow would not immediately back calls to refer suspected war criminals in Syria to the International Criminal Court for prosecution.

U.N. investigators said on Monday that Syrian leaders they had identified as suspected war criminals should face the ICC.

Because Syria is not party to the Rome Statute that established the ICC, the only way the court can investigate the situation is if it receives a referral from the U.N. Security Council, where Moscow is a permanent and a veto-wielding member.

"We think both sides are responsible for that is happening in Syria in terms of human rights abuses," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said. "Attempts to put blame solely on the Syrian government are illegitimate because the opposition has also committed and is committing human rights violations."

"Now, from our point of view, the priority task is to stop violence, start a political process ... To speak of necessity now to quickly put somebody in front of the ICC is not the path we should follow. At this stage it would be untimely and unconstructive," he told a news conference.

The investigators on Monday urged the U.N. Security Council to "act urgently to ensure accountability" for violations, including murder and torture, committed by both sides.

Moscow, a long-time ally of Damascus, has blocked three U.N. Security Council resolutions that would have increased pressure on President Bashar al-Assad to end the violence which has seen nearly 70,000 people killed in almost two years.

Gatilov said there was some progress recently in Syria where both sides of the conflict have started discussing opportunities and options for a dialogue.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will discuss the situation in Syria when he meets Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby and foreign ministers of Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon and Egypt who are due in Moscow for talks on Wednesday. (Writing by Thomas Grove; Editing by Timothy Heritage and Pravin Char)

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