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Siege and Bombardment of Syria’s Aleppo constitute Crimes of Historic proportions, says United Nations

The Russian ambassador accuses Britain and its allies of protecting terrorists from destruction

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People inspect the damage as a civilian walks near blood stains at a market hit by air strikes in Aleppo's rebel-held al-Fardous district, Syria, Oct. 12, 2016. VOA
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U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein says the siege and bombardment of Syria’s northern city of eastern Aleppo constitute crimes of historic proportions. He is calling on the 47-member U.N. Human Rights Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court.

Zeid says well over 300,000 Syrians have been killed and countless others wounded and traumatised in the course of more than five years of civil war. He says the relentless bombardment of Aleppo has turned the ancient city into a slaughterhouse.

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Without mentioning Russia by name, the high commissioner blames the indiscriminate airstrikes across the eastern rebel-held part of Aleppo by government forces and their allies for the overwhelming majority of civilian casualties.

He says the violations constitute war crimes and calls for those guilty of international crimes to be held accountable.

Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, chair of the International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, agrees all parties to the conflict guilty of crimes must be brought to justice. VOA
Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, chair of the International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, agrees all parties to the conflict guilty of crimes must be brought to justice. VOA

“Perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity will only cease to violate the laws of war when it is clear they will be held to account,” he said. “This why referral of the conflict in Syria to the ICC (International Criminal Court) or an ad hoc international justice mechanism is critical to resolving this conflict.”

People remove belongings from a damaged site after an air strike Sunday in the rebel-held besieged al-Qaterji neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria, Oct. 17, 2016. VOA
People remove belongings from a damaged site after an air strike Sunday in the rebel-held besieged al-Qaterji neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria, Oct. 17, 2016. VOA

Pinheiro says members of the investigative commission will continue to document war crimes in Aleppo. The British minister for Africa and the Middle East, Tobias Ellwood, launched a blistering attack on Syria and Russia.

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“Hospitals have been bombed repeatedly. Hundreds of civilians, many of them children, have been killed since the (Bashar) Assad regime and Russia launched their assault on Eastern Aleppo.”

The Russian ambassador accuses Britain and its allies of protecting terrorists from destruction and allowing them to regroup so they can continue what he calls their barbaric acts. The Syrian representative calls Britain’s accusations baseless and fabricated to enhance its political agenda. (VOA)

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Russia Using World Cup To Gloss Over Its Human Rights Record: Activists

FIFA President Gianni Infantino insists world football's governing body is engaging Russia on the issue

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People play soccer at the Red Square during the 2018 soccer World Cup in Moscow, Russia, June 19, 2018.
People play soccer at the Red Square during the 2018 soccer World Cup in Moscow, Russia, June 19, 2018. VOA

Human rights campaigners say Russia is using the glitz of the World Cup to try to gloss over its deteriorating human rights record — and they want tournament organizer FIFA to use its leverage to force change.

The 12 Russian host cities have enjoyed a World Cup makeover, as Russia presents a friendly face and photogenic scenery to hundreds of thousands of visitors. Tanya Lokshina, Russia program director at Human Rights Watch, is urging visitors to dig a little deeper.

“Our message to the fans is: Take a little time and learn more about the human rights crisis in Russia today, about what is, in fact, happening under the tournament’s glitter.” She described the situation as the biggest crisis since the fall of the Soviet Union.

“Russian citizens are denied their rights to speak freely, to protest freely, and people actually go to jail for posting online things like ‘Crimea is not Russia.'”

 Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov looks out from a defendants' cage as he listens to the verdict at a military court in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, Aug. 25, 2015.
Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov looks out from a defendants’ cage as he listens to the verdict at a military court in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, Aug. 25, 2015. VOA

Among those locked up is Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who criticized Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and is serving a 20-year jail term on terrorism charges.

In the Russian republic of Chechnya, Oyub Titiev, director of the human rights group Memorial, has been detained on drug charges, which his supporters said are false and politically motivated.

Before the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the release of several political prisoners. Campaigners are hoping he may repeat the gesture.

“We got a confirmation from FIFA that the organization’s leadership is engaging on the issue and hoping for a positive resolution,” Lokshina said.

Oyub Titiyev, the head of regional branch of Russian human rights group Memorial, attends a court hearing in Grozny, Russia, March 6, 2018.
Oyub Titiyev, the head of regional branch of Russian human rights group Memorial, attends a court hearing in Grozny, Russia, March 6, 2018. VOA

FIFA President Gianni Infantino insists world football’s governing body is engaging Russia on the issue.

“Concrete progress has been made in terms of human rights and the way we are dealing with human rights questions. Also through football and through an event like the World Cup,” he said in a recent interview.

On the opening day of the World Cup, gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell was arrested after staging a protest outside the Kremlin, calling for an investigation into the torture and disappearance of several gay men in Chechnya. In 2007, Tatchell was attacked in Moscow by neo-Nazis and suffered partial brain damage.

A short walk from the Kremlin lies Diversity House, set up to provide a safe space for LGBTQ and other minorities to watch the games. Pavel Klymenko, of the equality campaign group FARE Network that organized the facility, said it is intended to make a political point.

Russian police detane gay rights activist Peter Tatchell, center, as he holds a banner that reads "Putin fails to act against Chechnya torture of gay people" near Red Square in Moscow, Russia, June 14, 2018.
Russian police detane gay rights activist Peter Tatchell, center, as he holds a banner that reads “Putin fails to act against Chechnya torture of gay people” near Red Square in Moscow, Russia, June 14, 2018. VOA

“This house is a way of saying to everyone — to the footballing world, to the Russian society — that minorities are part of the game, part of society.”

Also read: Canadian Accused Of Helping Russian Intelligence Agents Sentenced To Prison For 5 Years

The fear is that once the fans and footballers return home, Russia’s human rights crackdown may intensify. (VOA)