UN Human rights chief warns Russia over air strikes in Syria’s Aleppo

High Commissioner Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein said initiatives to resolve the situation in Aleppo should include proposals to limit use of veto by permanent members of UN Security Council.

By: Reuters | Geneva | Updated: October 5, 2016 3:17 pm
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, of Jordan, arrives for the opening of the 33rd session of the Human Rights Council, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP) High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein said initiatives to resolve the situation in besieged, rebel-held eastern Aleppo should include proposals to limit the use of the veto by the permanent members of the UN Security Council.

The United Nations human rights chief told Russia on Tuesday that air strikes on civilian targets in the Syrian city of Aleppo may amount to crimes against humanity which could be brought before the International Criminal Court. High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein said initiatives to resolve the situation in besieged, rebel-held eastern Aleppo should include proposals to limit the use of the veto by the permanent members of the UN Security Council.

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This would enable major powers to refer the matter to the International Criminal Court, a step previously blocked by Russia and China.

“Such a referral would be more than justified given the rampant and deeply shocking impunity that has characterised the conflict and the magnitude of the crimes that have been committed, some of which may indeed amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity,” Zeid said in a statement.

In New York, Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin dismissed Zeid’s proposal, telling reporters: “It’s not his responsibility to discuss veto powers.”

“Unfortunately my good friend has been overstepping the limits of his responsibilities quite a bit and this is unfortunate.” The Russian Defence Ministry did not respond to a request for comment. When asked how Russia viewed the suggestion of limiting the veto rights of permanent Security Council members, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “Negatively”.

Last week Peskov said the Russian air force would continue to support Syrian government troops and that what he called the “war on terror” would continue.

Russia is the main military backer of President Bashar al-Assad.

Zeid said Syria’s government and its allies attacked targets protected by international law, including medical units, aid workers and water-pumping stations.

In the meantime, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said a battery of the S-300 air defense missile systems had been deployed to Syria to protect a Russian facility in the Syrian port of Tartus and Russian navy ships off the Mediterranean coast. Tartus is the only naval supply facility Russia has outside the former Soviet Union.

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He said that dropping indiscriminate incendiary weapons in heavily populated areas was particularly concerning, as well as being banned by a treaty that Russia is bound by. He compared Aleppo to the World War Two battles of Warsaw and Stalingrad and the attack on Dresden, and said calling the enemy a “terrorist organisation” was not an excuse to ignore the laws of war.

The rebels’ use of inaccurate “hell-fire cannons”, homemade mortars that fire gas cylinders packed with explosives and shrapnel, was also totally unacceptable, he said.

The World Health Organization said that between Sept. 23 and Oct. 2, 342 people had been killed in eastern Aleppo, including 106 children, and 1,129 had been wounded, including 261 children. Those figures were based on reports from functioning health centres and the true figures were probably much higher, spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said.

“As of yesterday, we have now only six partially functional hospitals that are in service, only one hospital that offers trauma care services,” Chaib told the briefing.

WHO still hopes to be able to evacuate sick and wounded from Aleppo, she said.

The Syrian government has yet to respond to a UN plan for aid convoys in Syria during the month of October, UN spokesman Jens Laerke said.

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