Still, diplomats and others praised the appointment of a lawyer with Ms. Marchi-Uhel’s broad international experience. She was the principal legal adviser for the international tribunal in the former Yugoslavia, and was a judge on the United Nations-Cambodian tribunal charged with prosecuting crimes committed during the rule of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. In France, she served on a court trying the most serious crimes and was a legal adviser to the Foreign Ministry.
The legal team is expected eventually to have about 50 staff members, but so far has received only about half the $13 million its work was expected to cost in its first year, with contributions from 29 European countries, led by the Netherlands and Germany. Most of the nations are European, and only two Arab countries, Qatar and Kuwait, are on the list of donors.
Still, investigations of war crimes are slowly gathering momentum. Sweden has prosecuted a member of an armed Syrian opposition group, and Germany, France, the Netherlands and Switzerland have opened Syrian war crimes investigations. Spain’s national court is also considering hearing a case filed against high-ranking members of President Bashar al-Assad’s security services.
The legal team in Geneva will make the task of national prosecutors significantly easier, and possibly cheaper, by analyzing and prepackaging the huge volume of raw evidence of atrocities accumulated by the United Nations and other investigations.
Data at their disposal is expected to include a list, drawn up by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria, of individuals implicated in possible war crimes and crimes against humanity. That list is believed to include Mr. Assad and key figures in his government.
Lawyers say the results of the team’s work will not come fast or be particularly visible, but its creation is a significant milestone in efforts to break the impunity that has kept Syria’s war criminals free.
“It builds the momentum for prosecutions at the national level which otherwise would be less feasible, if not impossible,” said Andrew Clapham, an international law professor at Geneva’s Graduate Institute.
“It also sends a message to those who are continuing to commit atrocities on the ground that the world is watching, and they may not be able to live out their lives casually or in comfort,” he added.
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