Russia accused of war crimes in Syria at UNSC session
Julian Borger, Guardian, Sep 25 2016
Russia has been directly and repeatedly accused of war crimes at the UNSC in an unusually blunt session, as hopes of any form of ceasefire were flattened by the scale and ferocity of the Syrian regime’s assault on eastern Aleppo. The war crimes accusations centred on the widespread use of bunker-busters and incendiaries on the rebel-held east of the city, weapons that Moscow’s accusers say were dropped by Russian aircraft. Matthew Rycroft, the UK ambassador to the UN said in Sunday’s emergency security council session on Syria:
Bunker-busting bombs, more suited to destroying military installations, are now destroying homes, decimating bomb shelters, crippling, maiming, killing dozens, if not hundreds. Incendiary munitions, indiscriminate in their reach, are being dropped on to civilian areas so that, yet again, Aleppo is burning. And to cap it all, water supplies, so vital to millions, are now being targeted, depriving water to those most in need. In short, it is difficult to deny that Russia is partnering with the Syrian regime to carry out war crimes.
Earlier in the day, British foreign office mophead Boris Johnson said:
Putin’s regime is not just handing Assad the revolver. He is, in some instances, firing the revolver. The Russians themselves are actually engaged.
Save the Children quoted doctors in Aleppo on Sunday as saying about half the casualties in the city were children. In the security council, Rycroft’s French counterpart, François Delattre, agreed the use of bunker-busters and incendiaries on urban residential areas were war crimes and insisted:
These crimes must not go unpunished. Aleppo is becoming another Srebrenica or Guernica. If nothing is done, this week will go down in history as the one in which diplomacy failed and barbarism triumphed.
Samantha Power highlighted the targeting of three out of four centres in eastern Aleppo used by the White Helmets and said:
Lifesaving equipment has been destroyed, with the consequence that those buried in rubble in Aleppo are much more likely to die in the rubble. While Sergei Lavrov was talking about restoring peace in Syria at UNSC meetings last week, incendiary bombs were being loaded on to Russian planes in preparation for the new offensive. What Russia is sponsoring and doing is not counter-terrorism. It is barbarism. History will not look kindly on UNSC members who stay silent in the face of this carnage. This is not the time to use the passive voice and observe that Aleppo is being bombed. It is time to say who is doing the bombing.
In response, Vitaiy Churkin blamed the breakdown of the ceasefire on the rebels, including the “moderate opposition” backed by the west. Extremist groups in eastern Aleppo were holding its population hostage, Churkin claimed, stopping them from leaving and using them as human shields. He praised the Assad regime in Damascus for its “admirable restraint,” claiming it was in fact Syrian government forces that were surrounded, and were only firing on eastern Aleppo when they had been fired upon. He said:
The Syrian regime only uses air power to get terrorists out of the city with minimal civilian casualties.
He dismissed reports of mass killing in east Aleppo as fake, using footage from government-held western Aleppo. But much of (Staffan de Mistura’s) briefing to the UNSC on the situation contradicted Churkin’s account. He said:
The ceasefire significantly reduced the level of fighting, allowing Aleppo residents to come out of their shelters and houses to celebrate Eid on the streets. People started to become cautiously optimistic, but the ceasefire was broken by bombing a day before the end of its first week, when five districts were hit reportedly with five severe airstrikes (when the Syrian government ended the truce). Since that fateful day, we have seen the situation in eastern Aleppo deteriorate to new heights of horror. Airstrikes are reported to have killed 213 people in Aleppo province, 139 of them in eastern Aleppo. We heard the word “unprecedented” in quantity and also in scale and type, in the types of bombing. We have seen reports, videos and pictures of reported use of incendiary bombs that create fireballs of such intensity that they light up the pitch darkness in eastern Aleppo, as though it was actually daylight. We now hear of bunker-busting bombs being used and see pictures of large craters in the earth much larger than in previous aerial bombings. If it is confirmed, the systematic indiscriminate use of such weapons in areas where civilians and civilian infrastructure are present may amount to war crimes. I have been asked why, in the face of such an onslaught and failure of diplomacy, I did not resign. I would not do so, because any sign of me resigning would be a signal that the international community is abandoning the Syrians, and we will not abandon the Syrians, and neither will you.
Tom Fletcher, the UK’s former ambassador to Lebanon, said:
The change in tone used at the UNSC on Sunday marks a new phase in the West’s response to the conflict, jettisoning residual hopes of making a deal with Russia. Normally, diplomatic language is cautious: even the Syria contact group’s statement yesterday only spoke of patience with Russia being “not unlimited.” But today’s statements in the UNSC from France, Pindostan & Britain are more raw and more angry. They show that the recent policy, admittedly more in hope than expectation, of trusting Russia to restrain Assad is now buried in the rubble of Aleppo. This signals a new phase. Assad has calculated that US elections give him a free hand to massacre. We will now see whether or not he has underestimated Pindosi readiness to protect the most vulnerable.