The United Nations has said that there should be no amnesty for people suspected of committing war crimes as talks aimed at ending Syria’s war continued to struggle in Geneva.
Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the top UN human rights official, maintained on Monday that the deliberate starvation of Syrians was a potential war crime and a crime against humanity that should be prosecuted and not covered by any amnesty that may be agreed as part of a peace deal.
“In the case of Syria, we are there to remind everyone that where there are allegations that reach the threshold of war crimes or crimes against humanity, that amnesties are not permissible,” he told reporters in Geneva.
Pointing to what he said was the starvation of people in the town of Madaya, and sieges of 15 other towns and cities in the country, Hussein called it “not just a war crime but a crime against humanity if proven in court”.
On Saturday, Doctors Without Borders warned that at least 16 residents of Madaya, a rebel-held town near the Lebanese border that has been under siege for months, continued to die of starvation despite the delivery of aid three weeks ago.
The group said that the town was in urgent need of emergency aid as an estimated 320 people were suffering from malnutrition, 33 of whom were in danger of death if they did not receive treatment quickly.
Separately, meetings continued in Geneva as part of UN-sponsored talks to end a war that has claimed the lives of more than 250,000 people and forced millions from their homes.
Members of the main opposition Syrian bloc, the Saudi Arabia-based High National Committee (HNC), were expected to meet UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura later on Monday.
Speaking before the meeting, HNC representative Bassma Kodmani reiterated that the bloc would not join the talks before a number of conditions were met by the government.
“The meeting [with de Mistura] will exclusively focus on how we can get the implementation of international humanitarian law regarding air bombings by Russia and the regime, regarding the prisoners as well as the besieged areas … which are suffering and need very urgent relief,” Kodmani told Al Jazeera.
On Sunday, Syrian ambassador to the UN Bashar Jaafari, who is leading the government delegation in Geneva, said Damascus was open to discussing humanitarian concerns.
He added, though, that such issues should be debated as part of the talks and not ahead of them.
Branding the opposition as terrorists backed by foreign powers, Jaafari said that the government would not accept preconditions for negotiations.
“We don’t deal with terrorists,” Jaafari said. “There are foreign powers endorsing foreign agendas, aiming at making political pressure on the Syrian government by using terrorism as a political weapon.”
Asked if the government was considering moves such as the creation of humanitarian corridors, ceasefires or prisoner releases, he said: “Absolutely, this is part of the agenda that we agreed upon and that will be one of the very important topics we will discuss among ourselves as Syrian citizens.”