UN officials urged [UN News Centre report] the international community on Wednesday to unite with the UN Security Council [official website] to protect civilians in the war-torn eastern Aleppo region of Syria. UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, stated that there is a “humanitarian tragedy” underway in Aleppo displacing an estimated 25,000 individuals from their homes in the last two weeks, primary as a result of continuing ground and air assaults. According to Geert Cappelaere, Regional Director of UNICEF [advocacy website] for the middle east and north Africa, tens of thousands of children have been killed and many have been deprived of basic medical care and safe drinking water. Cappelaere stated that “it is difficult to imagine what words could still adequately convey the unspeakable horrors endured by Syria’s children every day. … Simply put, Syria’s children are trapped in a living nightmare.” UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien, while regretfully acknowledging that it may be too late for many of the people in eastern Aleppo, expressed hope that the UNSC can, with the support of the international community, “stop the brutality and also prevent a similar fate befalling other Syrians.”
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. On Wednesday the US Central Command [official website] concluded [JURIST report] that airstrikes carried out by the US-led coalition near Dayr az Zawr, Syria, in September did not violate international law. According to Russian sources [JURIST report], the strike killed 60 soldiers loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [CNN profile]. A group of German lawyers on Monday announced the filing of charges [JURIST report] against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, alleging that he committed war crimes in Aleppo. As Germany has the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows countries to sue foreigners for international crimes, they are allowing the suit on that ground. In October 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, primarily responding to remarks from French President François Hollande [official website; in French] that the airstrikes were tantamount to war crimes. Earlier that same month French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault [official profile; in French] 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. Also the same month 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.