An international investigative commission has said that it has enough evidence to indict Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and 24 other members of his government for crimes against humanity.
The Guardian reported Tuesday that the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA) has received thousands of official documents smuggled out of Syria by 50 local investigators over the past three years.
The paper reports that the collected documents primarily concern the Assad regime's suppression of anti-government protests in 2011 that eventually led to Syria's bloody ongoing civil war. Damascus has been accused of detaining tens of thousands of suspected dissidents in the wake of those protests. Many are believed to have been tortured or killed in the Syrian prison system.
The paper reported that the evidence amounts to a half-million pages of orders and reports sent across the Assad regime's chain of command that order mass arrests and detentions for various offenses, among other crimes.
The CIJA has a team of investigators in each Syrian province that attempts to locate incriminating documents in offices of the government's military, security and intelligence agencies. The documents must then be removed from the country past checkpoints controlled by the army or militant groups like ISIS or the Nusra Front. The Guardian reports that one investigator has been killed trying to smuggle out documents, while another has been severely wounded and others have been detained and tortured by the regime.
At the United Nations, Russia, a major ally of Assad, has used its Security Council veto to block any investigation into alleged crimes by the Syrian regime. As such, it is unlikely that Assad would appear before either the International Criminal Court or an ad hoc tribunal unless or until he is removed from power.
News of the smuggled evidence against Assad comes amid a renewed push by the U.S. to investigate possible use of chemical weapons by Assad's forces. The New York Times reported late Tuesday that international inspectors have found traces of three banned chemicals in at least three locations used by Syria's military.
A U.N. diplomat told The Times that traces of sarin and ricin were found, with sarin located in artillery shells in two of the locations.
Last week, a Syrian opposition group sent a letter to the U.N. Security Council claiming that Assad's forces had attacked civilians, including children, with chlorine gas in the regions of Idlib and Hama.
"There is mounting evidence of repeated chlorine attacks," a U.N. diplomat from a Western nation told Fox News last week, adding that the situation in Syria had become "unacceptable."
The reports, if true, would confirm that Assad has violated the terms of a 2013 agreement brokered by the U.S. and Russia that call for him to dismantle the entire country's chemical arsenal.