UN Syria panel's Turkish investigator resigns to protest lack of access

March 27, 2012, Tuesday/ 01:10:00

One of three investigators on a UN panel documenting crimes against humanity in Syria, including executions and torture, has resigned in protest of the Syrian government's refusal to allow them into the country, the investigator said on Monday.

Yakın Ertürk told Reuters that she felt there was no point in continuing on the panel, whose mandate the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council decided to extend on Friday through the 47-nation body's September session. “The commission cannot do comprehensive work and investigate [certain] areas because of no access, so I decided not to continue,” Ertürk said in a telephone interview.

She made clear her resignation was not a criticism of the work of the panel, which she said had done everything possible under the circumstances to establish the kinds of crimes that the Syrian government has committed over the last year. “I felt that I did not have a further contribution to make,” she said, adding that it was not clear if she would be replaced. Had they been allowed to visit Syria, Ertürk added, she would have continued working on the investigation.

“Access would have enabled us to enrich our working methods and develop new methodologies,” she said. “There are areas such as detention ... which we can only talk about from first-hand accounts. But there is an urgent need for monitors to visit these detention centers.”

Human rights groups have accused President Bashar al-Assad's government of torturing detainees. Friday's Human Rights Council resolution called on the team of investigators to “conduct and continuously update a mapping exercise of gross violations of human rights since March 2011, including an assessment of casualty figures.” Well over 8,000 people have died in the 12 months since the anti-Assad uprising began, the United Nations says.

The investigative team, led by Brazilian Paulo Pinheiro, said in a report last month that Syrian forces have shot dead unarmed women and children, shelled residential areas and tortured wounded protesters in hospital under orders from the “highest level” of army and government officials. It has drawn up a confidential list of people suspected of ordering crimes against humanity for future prosecution.

In New York on Friday, Pinheiro told reporters his investigators were receiving up-to-date information from the field and had noticed a new trend in the conflict: fewer people were being killed in crackdowns on protests while more were being killed in military assaults on individual towns.

Earlier on Monday Ertürk's home country Turkey, once one of Syria's closest allies, closed its embassy in Damascus, citing deteriorating security conditions and attempts to put pressure on Assad's increasingly isolated government.           

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