World News

For the first time, UN panel directly accuses Russia of war crimes in Syria

Share
Key Points
  • The U.N. report warned that people in Syria continue to face "unprecedented levels of suffering and pain" after nearly nine years of conflict.
  • The Independent International Commission of Inquiry has been mandated to investigate and record all violations of international law in Syria since March 2011.
  • "Despite appeals and recommendations in previous reports for warring parties to take corrective action, the calls have largely gone unheeded," the report said.
This picture taken on on March 2, 2020 shows an aerial view of the village of Balyun in the southern part of Syria's northwestern province of Idlib.
OMAR HAJ KADOUR | AFP via Getty Images

A United Nations (U.N.) panel investigating the conflict in Syria has, for the first time, accused Russia of direct involvement in war crimes for the "indiscriminate" bombing of civilian areas.

The U.N. report from the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, published Monday, covered the period between July 11, 2019 and January 10, 2020, with a focus on attacks by "pro-government forces" on civilian targets. It warned that people in the country continue to face "unprecedented levels of suffering and pain" after nearly nine years of conflict.

The report cited two specific incidents in which it found evidence of the Russian military bombing civilian areas. The U.N. has previously indicated that Russian forces were responsible for war crimes in Syria, but this report was the first time it had accused Moscow explicitly.

The first attack consisted of a series of airstrikes between 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. local time in the densely populated city of Ma'arrat al-Nu'man on July 22, 2019. The strikes killed 43 people, including three girls and one boy. At least 109 people were injured, including 18 children.

The report describes the incident as a "double tap" attack, with a second bombing wave hitting the same area within minutes of the first. The airstrikes killed scores of civilians as rescuers rushed to help.

The second attack cited in the report took place between 7:15 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. local time just outside Hass, a town approximately 45 kilometers from Syria, on August 16, 2019. The airstrikes killed 20 people, including 8 women — one of whom was pregnant — and six children. At least 40 others were injured.

This picture taken on on March 2, 2020 shows smoke plumes rising following aerial bombardment by Syrian government forces on the village of al-Bara in the southern part of the northwestern province of Idlib.
OMAR HAJ KADOUR | AFP via Getty Images

"Based on the evidence available, including witness testimonies, video footage, data imagery as well as reports by flight spotters, flight communication intercepts and early warning observation reports, the Commission has reasonable grounds to believe that a Russian aircraft participated in each incident described above," the report said.

"In both incidents, the Russian Air Force did not direct the attacks at a specific military objective, amounting to the war crime of launching indiscriminate attacks in civilian areas."

The Kremlin was not immediately available to comment when contacted by CNBC Tuesday morning.

'Calls have largely gone unheeded'

The Independent International Commission of Inquiry has been mandated to investigate and record all violations of international law in Syria since March 2011.

"All warring parties continue to ignore or deny protection, including guarantees of sustained and unhindered humanitarian assistance, to vulnerable civilians," the report said.

"Despite appeals and recommendations in previous reports for warring parties to take corrective action, the calls have largely gone unheeded."