“Crimes of historic proportions” being committed in Aleppo: UN rights chief

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Civilians evacuate residential buildings in Aleppo after being hit by regime-fired barrel bombs. File photo

Geneva (UN) – Describing the bombardment and crippling siege of Syria’s war-ravaged eastern Aleppo as “crimes of historic proportions,” the top United Nations rights official on Friday urged the members of the UN Human Rights Council to “speak [out] with one voice.”

“The ancient city of Aleppo, a place of millennial civility and beauty, is today a slaughterhouse – a gruesome locus of pain and fear, where the lifeless bodies of small children are trapped under streets of rubble and pregnant women deliberately bombed,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Al-Hussein told a special session of the Geneva-based Human Rights Council. The 47-member body is preparing a draft resolution on the siege of Aleppo.

“The collective failure of the international community to protect civilians and halt this bloodshed should haunt every one of us,” he noted further, and warned that “its costs will be borne by our children, and future generations.”

The UN human rights chief further said the “civil war – now also a proxy conflict fuelled by cynical regional and international interests” – has killed well over 300,000, wounded and traumatized countless others, resulted in the abduction, summary execution or arbitrary detention of tens of thousands and displaced more half the Syrian population.

He further noted that hospitals, schools, marketplaces, water facilities and neighbourhood bakeries had been deliberately and repeatedly attacked and millions have been denied life-saving aid.

Noting that his Office (OHCHR) documented a number of violations of international humanitarian law by all parties in Aleppo, High Commissioner Al-Hussein said the attacks that have caused a number of civilian casualties constitute war crimes.

“And if knowingly committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against civilians, they constitute crimes against humanity,” he added.

Al-Hussein noted that though the responsibility for halting the Syrian crisis primarily fell to the UN Security Council, the General Assembly may take up the cause.

Urging members of the Human Rights Council to set aside political disagreements and focus exclusively on the suffering of women, men and children, he stressed: “No hypothetical advantage in global gamesmanship could possibly outweigh this pain and horror.”

He further urged the Security Council to set aside rivalries and act as one, in accordance with their obligations to international security and peace, saying: “Influence must be used to advance a political solution to the conflict. Flows of arms and equipment to the parties to the conflict must cease.”

Concluding, the High Commissioner also underlined the urgency of referring the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. Al-Hussein said that all parties to the conflict “must know that they will be held accountable for the international crimes they commit – all, without selective protection or discrimination.”

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