On Thursday, the United Nations announced that a new body is being set up to prepare prosecutions of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Syria. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is due to name a judge or prosecutor as its head this month.
While the independent panel, which is officially called the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Those Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in [Syria] since March 2011, is not able to prosecute individuals itself, it will collect and preserve evidence and prepare files for future prosecutions which states or international courts can use.
In December, the UN General Assembly voted to establish the mechanism. The United Nations aims to recruit 40-60 experts in investigations, prosecutions, the military, and forensics.
A UN Commission of Inquiry has already been collecting evidence since 2011. It has issued 20 reports accusing the Assad government, rebel forces and Islamic State of mass killings, rapes, disappearances and recruiting child soldiers.
Also on Thursday in a landmark ruling, a Swedish Court sentenced a Syrian man to life imprisonment for violating international humanitarian law through his participation in the execution style-murder of seven men in Syria in 2012. Under Swedish law, courts can try Swedish citizens as well as other nationals for crimes committed abroad.
Other European countries have similarly started investigations and prosecutions against people accused of committing serious crimes in Syria. The cases are based on the principle of universal jurisdiction and are possible because of the arrival in Europe of both victims and suspects as refugees.
Amnesty International reported last week the Syrian government executed up to 13,000 prisoners in mass hangings and carried out systematic torture at a military jail.