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UN increases 2020 operating budget to investigate Syria war crimes

The $3.07bn operating budget will also probe crimes in Myanmar and fund an observer mission in Yemen
The war in Syria has killed an estimated 500,000 people and forced millions to live as refugees (AFP)

The United Nations General Assembly has adopted a $3.07bn operating budget for 2020, which for the first time also includes funding for an investigation into war crimes in Syria.

In a statement released late on Friday, the UN said that the budget would fund the investigation of crimes committed in Syria since the outbreak of the civil war in 2011, alleged war crimes in Myanmar since a crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim minority began in 2017, an observer mission in Yemen, and a political mission in Haiti.

It added that the Syria and Myanmar investigations - which were previously financed by voluntary contributions - would receive compulsory contributions from 193 member states.

Russia - a key backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad - 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.

Moscow argued that the investigative mechanism was illegitimate, while Damascus stressed that it had no mandate from the Security Council. 

Caesar Act

The UN said that the 2020 operating budget represented a slight increase from 2019's figure of $2.9bn

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

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The announcement comes just days after the US passed a landmark piece of legislation that sought to sanction Assad, Russia and Iran for crimes in Syria.

The Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2019 slaps new sanctions on Syrian leaders and imposes sanctions on companies, states and individuals that back the Assad government militarily, financially or technically, including Russia and Iran.

The Caesar Act was included in a massive military policy bill signed by US President Donald Trump last week and is named after a Syrian military photographer who smuggled tens of thousands of gruesome photographs out of the country that documented evidence of war crimes perpetrated by the Syrian government.

The act also commits the US to support international prosecution of those accused of human rights abuses.

The war in Syria, now approaching its ninth year, has devastated much of the country. An estimated half a million people have been killed and millions have been forced to live as refugees.