The International Criminal Court has received reports of atrocities in Syria but has no jurisdiction "at this stage" to open an investigation because Damascus does not recognize the court, its prosecutor said Friday.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo said he could begin investigating allegations of crimes against humanity only at the request of the United Nations Security Council.
Because Syria is not one of the 116 nations that have ratified the court's founding document, the 1998 Rome Statute, prosecutors cannot begin an investigation without an order from the Security Council, known as a referral.
Moreno-Ocampo said "various parties" have sent his office allegations of "arbitrary detentions, killings of peaceful demonstrators and torture."
He did not give details of where the reports came from, but activists and rights groups often send his office allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity from conflicts around the world.
Moreno-Ocampo's comments came a day after a U.N. team said Syrian forces may have broken international law in their crackdown against protesters and recommended the Security Council refer the case to the international court.
"The mission found a pattern of human rights violations that constitutes widespread or systematic attacks against the civilian population, which may amount to crimes against humanity," the U.N. investigators said in their 22-page report.
But the U.N. human rights chief, Navi Pillay, told reporters Thursday after briefing the Security Council in New York that she didn't expect a referral to the court in The Hague.
She said there was no reaction from the Security Council "so I do not hold out much hope."
In the past, the Security Council has referred two other cases to the court, in Sudan's Darfur region and in Libya.
The Libya referral in February followed Moammar Gadhafi's violent crackdown on protesters in his country.
Moreno-Ocampo quickly opened an investigation and in May asked judges to issue arrest warrants for Gadhafi, his son Saif Gadhafi and the regime's intelligence chief Abdullah al Sanousi.
Warrants were issued in June but all three men remain in Libya where Gadhafi's regime continues to fight rebels in a drawn-out civil war.