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UN rights chief terms bombing of Aleppo 'crimes of historic proportions'

[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for of Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein [official profile] on Friday expressed outrage [press release] over the human rights crisis in Syria, stating that, "[t]he violations and abuses suffered by people across the country, including the siege and bombardment of eastern Aleppo, are not simply tragedies; they also constitute crimes of historic proportions." Zeid listed many atrocities in the Syria conflict, including the hundreds of thousands killed, abductions, summary executions, arbitrary detentions and torture, displacement of the families of more than half the country's population from their homes, attacks on hospitals, schools and marketplaces, and the attack last month on a humanitarian convoy which he termed as a "new low of barbarity." Particularly expressing his disappointment at watching Aleppo, an ancient city of "millennial civility and beauty," being reduced to a slaughterhouse, Zeid stated that "there must be an immediate, prolonged and all-encompassing ceasefire to enable the passage of humanitarian relief to all in need—impartially and unconditionally" in Aleppo. Zeid added that, "[a]ll parties must provide assistance and free passage for all civilians wishing to flee, without any form of reprisal—including passage across international borders." while the "civilians who choose to remain in Aleppo must also be protected, under international humanitarian law." Zeid concluded his statement by urging members of the Human Rights Council to unite in their efforts to provide assistance to those "whose suffering cries out for our help" and calling on the international community to "speak with one voice, for human life and human rights."

The conflict in Syria [JURIST backgrounder] has continued for five years in a civil war surrounding the legitimacy of Bashar al-Assad [official website]. For much of that time attacks have taken place on humanitarian convoys, medical facilities, and other forms of critical civilian aid. Last week Russia President Vladimir Putin [official website] rejected suggestions [JURIST report] that his country could face war crimes charges because of its role in the airstrikes in Aleppo, Syria, primarily responding to remarks from French President François Hollande [official website] that the airstrikes were tantamount to war crimes. Earlier the same week FrenchForeign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault [official profile] stated [JURIST report] that France intends to pursue avenues for the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] to initiate an investigation into the alleged war crimes committed by Syrian and Russian forces in Aleppo. Last week US Secretary of State John Kerry [official website] made a similar call [JURIST report] for an investigation into the alleged war crimes of Russia and Syria in Aleppo. In September the EU called attacks in Aleppo a "breach of international humanitarian law" [JURIST report], denouncing the targeting of a humanitarian convoy hit by an airstrike the week prior. That same month the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria urged parties in the Syrian conflict to return to the "negotiation table" after a new report highlighted an increase of violence suffered by civilians [JURIST report]. The report noted that along with summary executions, forced displacement, and indiscriminate shelling and airstrikes the Syrian people lack sufficient access to life-saving medical services.

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