Sunday 28 May 2017

UN: Curb Security Council veto to halt Syria violence

People inspect a damaged site after airstrikes in the rebel held Karam Houmid neighbourhood in Aleppo, Syria. Photo: Reuters
People inspect a damaged site after airstrikes in the rebel held Karam Houmid neighbourhood in Aleppo, Syria. Photo: Reuters
People that fled Islamic State contolled areas travel on the back of a vehicle in al-Rai town, in the northern Aleppo countryside. Photo: Reuters
People that fled Islamic State contolled areas travel on the back of a vehicle in al-Rai town, in the northern Aleppo countryside
People inspect a damaged site after airstrikes in the rebel held Karam Houmid neighbourhood in Aleppo, Syria. Photo: Reuters

Roland Oliphant in New York

The United Nations human rights chief has called for a limit to Security Council veto powers, saying "extraordinary" measures must be taken to break a deepening diplomatic deadlock and halt the violence in Syria.

The intervention came amid a near total collapse of diplomatic efforts to end the violence in Syria after the United States ended talks with Russia over its refusal to halt a bombing campaign in Aleppo.

John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, said yesterday that Moscow and Damascus "know exactly what they need to do" for a resumption of diplomatic efforts, but that so far they had been pursuing a scorched earth policy.

"Where they make a desert, they call it peace," Mr Kerry said, quoting the Roman historian Tacitus.

British, French, German, Italian and US officials are to meet in Berlin today to attempt to find a political solution to the crisis, but it is unclear what progress they can make without Russian involvement.

The United States suspended all contacts with Russia over Syria on Monday, saying Moscow had "failed to live up to its own commitments" under a jointly brokered ceasefire deal that unraveled last month.

A medic holds a dead child after airstrikes in the rebel held Karam Houmid neighbourhood in Aleppo, Syria. Photo: Reuters
A medic holds a dead child after airstrikes in the rebel held Karam Houmid neighbourhood in Aleppo, Syria. Photo: Reuters

International concerns centre on Aleppo, where pro-government forces backed by intense Russian airstrikes are attempting to capture the rebel-held eastern part of the city.

Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, ''said only a restriction on the blocking powers of the five permanent members of the Council could halt the "ghastly avalanche of violence and destruction" overtaking the country.

"The UN Security Council should, without any further delay, adopt criteria to restrain members from using the veto when there are serious concerns that war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide may have been committed," Mr Zeid said in a statement.

Limiting the veto power of the five permanent members of the Security Council would allow suspected war crimes to be referred to the International Criminal Court in the Hague, he said.

He singled out Russian and regime airstrikes and the opposition's use of rockets attached to gas canisters for particular criticism.

Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy for Syria, was in "deep talks" on the way forward following the US announcement, his office said yesterday.

Meanwhile, Russia voiced doubts over a new French-sponsored draft resolution aimed at imposing a ceasefire in Aleppo.

The proposals submitted on Monday called for the suspension of all military flights over Aleppo, allowing humanitarian aid to be delivered, and establishing a centre to monitor the ceasefire.

Vitaly Churkin, Russia's ambassador to the UN, said Moscow viewed the resolution as unlikely to work in its original form.

"I'm not even sure many other council members would like to see a resolution on cessation of hostilities which has no chance of working," he said at a press conference.

"If the only effect of that resolution is that the secretary general will start thinking of some monitoring mechanism which is not going to work in the first place, then there is not much sense in having that resolution," he said.

The Russian foreign ministry said yesterday that its embassy in Damascus came under mortar fire. No one was hurt in the attack on Monday, the ministry said in a statement. Syrian government forces have been targeting their assault on the eastern, rebel-held neighbourhoods of Aleppo, while rebel shelling of government-controlled parts of the city has left at least two people dead.

Rebels said pro-government forces are attacking the city from the south in a bid to penetrate its opposition-controlled areas, where the UN estimates 275,000 people are trapped in a government siege. The Islamic Front rebel coalition said on Twitter that its factions repelled an advance on the Sheikh Saeed neighbourhood.

The rebel shelling on the city university's School of Sciences killed two students, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, but state media put the toll at six dead and 47 wounded.

Also yesterday, activists raised the death toll from a suicide bombing at a Kurdish wedding in the north-eastern city of Hasakah the previous night to at least 34, including 11 children.

The attack was claimed by the Islamic State (Isil) group, which said its fighters had targeted a gathering of a Kurdish political party, without mentioning a wedding celebration.

Irish Independent

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