Russia accused of war crimes in Syria at UN security council session

New York, 26 Sept – Russia has been directly and repeatedly accused of war crimes at the UN security council 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-busting and incendiary bombs on the 275,000 civilians living in the rebel-held east of the city, weapons that Moscow’s accusers say were dropped by Russian aircraft.

“Bunker-busting bombs, more suited to destroying military installations, are now destroying homes, decimating bomb shelters, crippling, maiming, killing dozens, if not hundreds,” Matthew Rycroft, the UK ambassador to the UN said during the emergency security council session on Syria on Sunday.

“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.”

Rycroft later walked out of the chamber with his US and French counterparts before the Syrian government representative began speaking, in protest at the regime’s bombing campaign.

Earlier in the day, the UK foreign secretary, 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 that about half the casualties in the city were children.

At the security council meeting, Rycroft’s French counterpart, François Delattre, agreed the use of bunker-busters and incendiaries on urban residential areas was a war crime.

“They must not be unpunished,” he said. “Impunity is simply not an option in Syria.”

“Aleppo is to Syria what Sarajevo was to Bosnia, or what Guernica was to the Spanish war,” the French envoy said. “this week will go down in history as the one in which diplomacy failed and barbarism triumphed”.

The US ambassador, Samantha Power, highlighted the targeting of three out of four centres in eastern Aleppo used by the volunteer emergency services – the White Helmets – with the consequence that lifesaving equipment had been destroyed and “those buried in rubble in Aleppo are much more likely to die in the rubble”.

She said while Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, had been talking about restoring peace in Syria at council 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,” Power said, urging other national representatives to speak out. “History will not look kindly on security council members who stay silent in the face of this carnage,” she said, adding that it was also not the time to use the passive voice and observe that Aleppo was being bombed. It was time, she said, to say who was doing the bombing.

In response, the Russian envoy, Vitaly Churkin, blamed the breakdown of a week-long, US-Russia-brokered ceasefire on 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.

The Guardian