UN designates 2020 funds for war crimes probes in Syria, Myanmar

UN designates 2020 funds for war crimes probes in Syria, Myanmar
The UN's budgets for war crimes investigations in Syria and Myanmar will now receive compulsory contributions from all 193 member states.
3 min read
28 December, 2019
The United Nations General Assembly increased its budget for 2020 [Getty]
The United Nations General Assembly on Friday adopted a $3.07 billion operating budget which for the first time includes funding for the investigation of war crimes in Syria and Myanmar.

The budget represents a slight increase from 2019's figure of $2.9 billion.

The increase is due to additional missions assigned to the UN Secretariat, inflation and exchange rate adjustments, according to diplomats.

These include the observer mission in Yemen, a political mission established in Haiti, the investigation of crimes committed in Syria since the outbreak of civil war in 2011, and in Myanmar after the 2017 crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim minority.

For the first time, the budgets for the Syria and Myanmar investigations - which were previously financed by voluntary contributions - will in 2020 be transferred to the UN secretariat's budget and will receive compulsory contributions from the 193 member states.

Russia proposed multiple amendments during negotiations in the Committee on Budgetary Questions meeting and in the General Assembly plenary session.

At each vote, Russia, Syria, Myanmar and their supporters, including North Korea, Iran, Nicaragua and Venezuela, were outvoted. They all stated that they dissociated themselves from references to investigative mechanisms in the adopted resolutions.

Russia said it would examine its future obligatory payments in light of the vote outcome and predicted an increase in the arrears that currently plague the UN's treasury due to countries not paying enough.

[Statistics from July 2018]

Moscow argued on Friday the investigative mechanism was illegitimate, while Damascus stressed that it had no mandate from the Security Council. Russia is a close ally to the Syrian regime.

The UN's operating budget is separate from the annual budget for peacekeeping operations of some $6 billion that is adopted in June.

Syria war crimes

The US passed landmark legislation in Congress last week, sanctioning Bashar Al-Assad, Russia and Iran for war crimes in Syria.

The Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2019 authorises the use of sanctions on Syrian regime officials, as well as military and government leaders thought to be responsible for the horrendous war crimes committed against civilians in the country.

Read more: Assad officials begin trial in Germany, but in Syria regime abuses prevail

The bill could provide support for Syrian victims and put economic and political pressure on the Assad regime.

It also has bipartisan support calls for accountability and justice for the hundreds of thousands of victims of the regime.

The Russian military, mercenaries operating in the war-torn country, energy companies looking to profit from Syrian oil businesses and Iranian paramilitary forces helping Assad may also be the recipient of sanctions.

Myanmar's Rohingya Muslims

Earlier this month, Aung San Suu Kyi attended the UN's International Court of Justice in the Hague to defend Myanmar over accusations of genocide against its minority Muslim Rohingya population.

The case, which has been brought to the ICJ by the African nation of The Gambia, comes after thousands of Rohingya were killed and some 700,000 fled to neighbouring Bangladesh during a brutal military crackdown in the Buddhist-majority country in 2017.

Suu Kyi, who was once awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, told the United Nation's top court there was no proof of "genocidal intent" behind her country's military campaign against Rohingya Muslims.

Read more: Rohingya leaders condemn 'liar' Aung San Suu Kyi after she denies Myanmar genocide

She told the court that the mass exodus of over one third of the Rohingya community to neighboring Bangladesh was not the result of a systematic purge but rather the unfortunate result of a battle with insurgents.

Rohingya leaders have condemned Suu Kyi's comments at the ICC, including Mohammed Mohibullah, chairman of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights.

"The world will judge their claim of no genocide with evidence," he said.

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