Dutch minister calls for funds for Syria war crimes database

In this picture taken, Feb. 16, 2017, a child looks out from an abandoned petrol station where he and his family now live. The petrol station, badly damaged by war, is now the home of five families who have returned to Tel Abiad district, Raqqa Governorate, Syria, after fleeing from ISIS two years earlier only to find their homes destroyed. A new report by Save the Children says Syrian children are showing symptoms of ‘toxic stress’ from war exposure, and attempting self-harm and suicide. (Photo Courtesy: Jonathan Hyams, Save the Children via AP)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The Dutch foreign minister paid tribute Thursday to activists who risk their lives in Syria to gather evidence of atrocities, saying it should be used to prosecute those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Bert Koenders was speaking at a meeting of experts who are discussing progress in setting up an independent database to store and analyze evidence of war crimes in Syria's civil war.

Delivering justice for crimes in Syria remains elusive. A United Nations Security Council resolution to refer Syrian atrocities to the International Criminal Court was vetoed in 2014 by Russia and China.

Koenders said the database, established late last year by the U.N. General Assembly, will send a message that while diplomatic efforts to halt the war are faltering, efforts to ensure accountability for atrocities continue.

"If we can make this mechanism work, it will allow for swift prosecutions once the time is right," Koenders said. "That means collecting and preserving the available evidence in one place. It means analyzing information and compiling files that can one day be used to find suspects and bring them to trial."

Koenders highlighted the bravery of people who have spirited evidence out of Syria: a military police officer who hid flash drives in his socks containing thousands of photos of people killed in custody, a civil servant who fled with evidence taped to his body, and activists who hid evidence in banana crates to get it out of the country.

"They all risked their lives," he said. "And many others are still doing so every day."

Koenders appealed for funding for the program, which will be based in Geneva and needs $13 million (12.3 million euros) in its first year.

"If justice is our goal, then we cannot sit back and wait until the war ends," he said.

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