Carla Del Ponte was full of enthusiasm when she was appointed to the United Nations Human Rights Council's (UNHRC) three-person Commission of Inquiry on Syria in September of 2012. Now she is leaving the commission in frustration. And that with a rationale that is not only partial flawed, but also one that is politically shortsighted and astonishingly naive.
Del Ponte's resignation is certainly plausible on one point: Her investigative commission has been consistently calling for the UN Security Council to task the International Criminal Court (ICC) with investigating serious human rights violations and war crimes in Syria in its six-month reports since mid-2014. Yet, a Security Council resolution on the issue of Syria has proven impossible thus far, due to deep divisions among members USA, France and Great Britain on one hand, and Russia and China on the other.
But it would be wrong to accuse the commission of failure and ineffectiveness simply because of the political standoff in the Security Council. Over the last six years the UNHRC commission has actively and effectively implemented its mission, especially considering the limitations of the framework it is working within. Despite the fact that the Assad regime has systematically denied the commission access to Syria and has refused to cooperate with it, the commission has managed to compile ten comprehensive reports that provide detailed and documented evidence of human rights abuses and war crimes. The reports are based on more than 1,000 interviews the commission conducted with witnesses and survivors of such crimes. The interviews were conducted in person with people who now live outside Syria, as well as via Skype with people still living there.
The reports will be a valuable source of information when the crimes are prosecuted one day - either by the ICC or by an independent justice system in a democratic postwar Syria. Del Ponte should be well aware of that fact based on her time as chief prosecutor at the UN's Special Tribunals for ex-Yugoslavia and for Rwanda.
Things are not black and white in Syria
Del Ponte exhibits political shortsightedness when she chastises Russia's support for the Assad regime in her justified criticism of the Security Council, but fails to say a single word about the US and other Western powers' support for Islamic rebel groups, or even terror organizations such as "Islamic State" (IS) and Al-Qaeda by Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia.
Things are not simply black and white in the conflict in Syria. It is not a situation in which there is an evil government on the one side and good opposition on the other. By her own admission, Del Ponte needed six years to arrive at that conclusion. But such an astonishing admission from a lawyer who was the chief prosecutor on two UN Special Tribunals and attorney general in her home country Switzerland, and thus spent years in some of the world's highest law enforcement positions, smacks of naivete and unawareness. Hopefully the UN will quickly find a qualified successor for its Commission of Inquiry on Syria - one with more stamina and less political myopia and ingenuousness.