Investigators hunt for war crimes evidence in Syria

Civilians carry their belongings recovered from their homes after soldiers loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad regained control of al-Dukhaneya neighborhood near Damascus from rebel fighters on Oct. 7, 2014.

Civilians carry their belongings recovered from their homes after soldiers loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad regained control of al-Dukhaneya neighborhood near Damascus from rebel fighters on Oct. 7, 2014.

Several Western governments, including the United States and Britain, are funding two separate teams of investigators in a bid to find war crime evidence in Syria, the New York Times reported diplomats as saying Wednesday.

The teams are researching for special spoils of war such as military orders, meeting minutes, prison records or any other documents that could be used to help future cases against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the radical Islamic State of Iraq and Syria militant group.

Local lawyers and law students are recruited to search prisons and government officers for papers which could possibly reveal “the three C’s” — the structure of command, control and communication,” William H. Wiley, a Canadian and a veteran of international war crimes tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, told the U.S. paper.

Wiley, who heads one of the teams, the Commission for International Justice and Accountability, said “experience has shown that it’s important to move documents before they can be hidden, destroyed or tampered with.”

He described his group as independent of any court, and was working in Syria since 2011.

“We can work faster, we have a high risk tolerance and no cumbersome bureaucratic rules,” said Wiley, in a reference to how his investigators can work more freely in comparison if they were sent by war crimes tribunals.

The group so far has received $1 million from the United States to help it reach its $6 million budget for 2014. Other donor states include Britain, Denmark, Germany, Norway and Switzerland.

Second team

Meanwhile, the second team also works independently and has been funded by Britain and other European states; it focuses mainly on ISIS.

The team started work in January and its main goal is to study the foundation of ISIS.

The team’s head, who is a former Western counterintelligence agent, told the U.S. paper: “We need to understand their system, their techniques, their roles, so we can build the chain of command.”

He added: “every rebel group has had ISIS detainees, but processing detainees is not a priority.” He urged his contacts to keep them alive, not only because it was just but also because they must be interrogated.

The Wall Street Journalist reported on Sep. 4 that “ [ISIS] fighters have been trained to collect evidence, particularly documents that lay out the extremist group’s structure and leadership, as well as to question captured Islamic State fighters.”

Late August, U.N. investigators said both the Syrian government and ISIS committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.

 
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