U.N. war crimes investigators for Syria said on Tuesday they were ready to share names and details from their secret lists of suspects with any prosecution authorities preparing cases.
The move could pave the way for perpetrators of killings, torture and other atrocities on all sides to be brought to account someday. The aim is to sidestep the U.N. Security Council, where Russia and China have prevented the issue being sent to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for prosecution.
Paulo Pinheiro, chairman of the United Nations' commission of inquiry, urged national authorities to contact the independent investigators who have compiled five confidential lists over nearly four years.
Pinheiro and his team, who include former U.N. war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte, said last month they planned to publish names of suspects and push for new ways to bring them to justice, in a radical change of strategy.
"We will not be releasing the list of names publicly now," Pinheiro told the U.N. Human Rights Council said on Tuesday.
"We can best aid the pursuit of justice at this time through targeted disclosure. We will share names and information about specific alleged perpetrators with state prosecution authorities that are preparing cases to be heard before a competent and impartial judiciary," he said.
More than 200,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict, which began in 2011 with protests against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad and has driven 3.9 million Syrians to flee their shattered homeland.
Pinheiro said his team would share information from "our extensive database" to aid domestic investigations and prosecutions. Some countries have "universal jurisdiction", which means they can prosecute crimes committed by foreign nationals abroad.
The investigators say their lists, kept in a U.N. safe, include military and security commanders, the heads of detention facilities and commanders of insurgent groups. They are based on their interviews with hundreds of victims and witnesses.
Syria's ambassador Hussam Edin Aala responded angrily at the 47-member forum to the investigators' move.
"The commission's biased and selective approach and its continued accusations toward the government of Syria while turning a blind eye to crimes of terrorist groups such as the Nusra Front ... leads us to doubt the credibility, the motives."
He said the commission had remained silent over "the responsibility of states such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey in sponsoring terrorism", he added.
The three Sunni Muslim nations Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have backed armed groups battling to oust Assad, whose main international allies are Russia and Shi'ite Iran.