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Both Sides in 6-Year Syrian Conflict Committed War Crimes: UN Report

U.N. investigators said the U.S.-led coalition did not carry out any air attacks over Aleppo in the second half of 2016

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This still image taken from drone footage, posted online by the communications arm of Ahrar al-Sham militant group, purports to show a blast on the ground, apparently the result of an airstrike, in a Syrian-government controlled neighborhood of Aleppo, S, VOA

UN, March 2, 2017: Opposing sides in the fight for control of Aleppo committed war crimes, according to a new United Nations report.

The U.N.’s latest report on the six-year conflict said the Syrian government’s aerial bombing and strafing of a humanitarian convoy that killed 14 aid workers and halted relief operations were among the war crimes that were committed.

Syrian and Russian forces executed indiscriminate “daily air strikes” using cluster munitions on the rebel-held eastern part of Aleppo between July and the and the fall of the city in late December, the report said. Hundreds of people were killed and hospitals destroyed, amounting to the war crime of indiscriminate attacks.

Map, VOA

Was Russia involved?

U.N. investigators could not determine if both Syrian and Russian forces were involved in the Aleppo attacks because they jointly controlled their air space over the area “throughout the period under review.”

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“[They] use predominately the same aircraft and weapons, thus rendering attribution impossible in many cases,” according to the report, which did not attribute any war crimes to Russia.

The report, which was released Wednesday, said Syrian helicopters employed a banned weapon, toxic chlorine bombs, on Aleppo “throughout 2016,” causing hundreds of causalities.

More than 5,000 pro-government forces surrounded eastern Aleppo in an attempt to “surrender or starve” opposition forces, the report said.

This photo made from the footage taken from Russian Defense Ministry official website on Feb. 4, 2017, claims to show a Russian sapper looking for mines in a street in Aleppo, Syria. VOA

Civilian deaths

Opposition groups killed and injured dozens of people when they shelled government-controlled western Aleppo, the report said. The groups also stopped civilians from leaving eastern Aleppo and used them as “human shields,” and attacked a Kurdish residential district, both of which are war crimes.

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U.N. investigators said the U.S.-led coalition did not carry out any air attacks over Aleppo in the second half of 2016.

The report was issued as Syrian peace talks continue in Geneva. The findings are based on 291 interviews with victims and witnesses, as well as forensic evidence and satellite imagery. (VOA)

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Concerns Rise Over China’s Stand at United Nations Human Rights Council

China has passed human rights reviews twice before this one, while more than 120 countries Beijing's human rights record during the most recent process.

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The 22nd session of the U.N. Human Rights Council meets in Geneva on Feb. 25, 2013. RFA

Rights activists are increasingly worried that Beijing’s influence operations are having a negative impact on the work of the United Nations Human Rights Council, which concludes its 40th session on Friday.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) China director Sophie Richardson warned in an article this week that China is seeking to undermine the mission of the U.N. Human Rights Council from within.

She also cited HRW research in 2017 which reported threats and harassment of U.N. staff involved in human rights evaluation by Chinese officials.

“As we head towards the final phase of [China’s U.N. human rights review], ask yourself: What other government threatens #humanrights treaty body experts?” Richardson tweeted on Thursday.

“As an [Human Rights Council] member #China is expected to uphold highest standards,” she wrote in another tweet, referencing a report in The New York Times. “Instead it tells people that merely attending an event is a ‘hostile act.'”

China
During the recent round, the Chinese government said it accepted most of the 346 human rights recommendations put forward by the council. VOA

According to HRW’s 2017 article based on a 97-page report: “Chinese officials have at times harassed and intimidated U.N. staff, experts on treaty bodies, and independent experts focusing on specific human rights issues.”

The 2014 death in detention of activist Cao Shunli, who was detained on her way to a U.N. human rights event in Geneva, also sent a “chilling” message to Chinese activists who may want to participate in the U.N. human rights process, the article said.

HRW isn’t the only human rights organization worried about Chinese influence at the U.N.

Renee Xia, who heads the Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network, reported from a side-event of the Human Rights Council conference in Geneva this week that it was “standing room only.”

“Strong show of interest despite #China urging countries not to attend,” Xia tweeted.

“The strong attendance was more remarkable esp. after #China officials went to many countries’ diplomats at the U.N., Geneva, to threaten them with “serious consequences” if they attended the side events,” she wrote in another tweet.

“#Bullying at the UN must stop!” she wrote.

‘So many restrictions’

Wang Dan, a former leader of the 1989 student-led pro-democracy movement on Tiananmen Square, is also in Geneva this week.

“To tell you the truth, my feelings during my two days here are that China has huge influence at the U.N.,” Wang told RFA.

“For example, at one side-event, it wasn’t just the Chinese delegation who spoke against [criticisms of Beijing’s rights record], but other countries came to speak in support of China’s position,” he said.

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“Many of the countries participating in the Human Rights Council are actually the ones that are carrying out the most violations of human rights, Pixabay

Wang said tight controls over public speech also make it less likely that the ruling Chinese Communist Party will have to face criticism of human rights violations coming from within its own borders.

“There are a lot of people online in China, but they are under so many restrictions,” he said. “You can’t mention the Tiananmen Massacre. You can’t mention [late Nobel peace laureate and political prisoner] Liu Xiaobo. You can’t say this, you can’t say that.”

“I don’t think that’s how you define freedom … but then the Chinese point to the U.N. charter, which says that all member states must be respected,” he said.

‘Autocratic rule the default’

Veteran New York-based rights activist Liu Qing said the work of the council had become “unrecognizable” to him.

“Many of the countries participating in the Human Rights Council are actually the ones that are carrying out the most violations of human rights,” Liu told RFA.

“The only purpose of these countries in insinuating themselves into the Human Rights Council is to curb the positive role of the Human Rights Council and make autocratic rule the default setting on the international stage,” he said.

Amnesty International blogger Shao Jiang wrote in December 2018 that Beijing is reinterpreting universal human rights as merely the right to survival, freedom to access food, and regards other definitions of human rights as secondary to trade and economic development.

“The Chinese government has appointed government officials as independent experts into the UN’s Human Rights Council Advisory Committee, and the U.N. treaty bodies,” Shao said.

China has passed human rights reviews twice before this one, while more than 120 countries Beijing’s human rights record during the most recent process.

During the recent round, the Chinese government said it accepted most of the 346 human rights recommendations put forward by the council.

Also Read: Myanmar Government Calls Ethnic Armed Groups To Attend Collective Peace Discussions For The First Time

The United Nations now reports annually on government reprisals against human rights defenders participating in U.N. human rights efforts, Richardson wrote in an article in The Hill last December.

“China has topped the list of offenders in every report issued,” she said. (RFA)