What Carla Del Ponte’s resignation means for search for justice in Syria

Swiss prosecutor Carla Del Ponte has taken on the Italian and Russian mafias, served as the chief prosecutor in two international tribunals, and spent the last five years fiercely advocating for justice in Syria, scene of some of the worst crimes against humanity the world has witnessed in real time.

But frustration at the paralysis of the United Nations Security Council and the absence of a forum in which to mete out justice, the veteran decided to throw in the towel and resign from a UN panel investigating war crimes in Syria.

Ms. Del Ponte announced her resignation with trademark aplomb Sunday on the sidelines of the Locarno Film Festival.

Recommended: How well do you understand the conflict in Syria? Take our quiz.

Pulling no punches, she spoke of her futile attempts over the past five years to persuade the Security Council to either establish an ad hoc tribunal or to refer the case of Syria to the International Criminal Council (ICC) in The Hague.

“There is total impunity,” Del Ponte said, faulting Russia and China for vetoing resolutions seeking to refer Syria to the ICC. Moscow, in particular, has been an unwavering and hands-on ally of the government in Damascus, providing it with military support and diplomatic cover.

Del Ponte, who served as prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, says the ferocity of the violence in Syria is unlike anything she has seen before. But she concluded the commission has “no future” due to the lack of “political will” to see justice in Syria.

If her resignation is seen as a setback for the search for justice in Syria, other international advocates of human rights, while acknowledging her frustration and crediting her service, are not as discouraged that in the long run justice will prevail.


The UN panel, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, was established in August 2011, just five months after the start of protests against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. The protesters were met with a violent response from the Arab nation’s feared security forces. Parts of the opposition took up arms, and jihadists rushed in.

The UN commission has a mandate to investigate alleged violations of international human rights law by all parties in the conflict, with a view toward holding perpetrators accountable. Del Ponte, who is credited with proving beyond…

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