France to push ICC to investigate into war crimes in Syria

A boy runs as he rushes away from a site hit by what activists said were airstrikes by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the Douma neighborhood of Damascus, Syria August 24, 2015. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh
A boy runs as he rushes away from a site hit by what activists said were airstrikes by forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in the Douma neighborhood of Damascus, Syria August 24, 2015. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

France will ask the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor to launch an investigation into war crimes it says have been committed by Syrian and Russian forces in eastern Aleppo.

Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, speaking after a French-drafted United Nations Security Council resolution on Syria was vetoed at the weekend by Russia, also said President Francois Hollande would not welcome his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Oct. 19 to just trade “pleasantries”.

Since the collapse of efforts to reach a ceasefire in September, Russian and Syrian warplanes have launched their biggest offensive on the northern city of Aleppo’s besieged rebel-held sectors, in a battle that could become a turning point in the five-year-old civil war.

“These bombings – and I said it in Moscow – are war crimes,” Ayrault told France Inter radio. “It includes all those who are complicit for what’s happening in Aleppo, including Russian leaders.

“We shall contact the International Criminal Court prosecutor to see how she can launch these investigations.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also called for a war crimes investigation last week.

“It is very dangerous to play with such words because war crimes also weigh on the shoulders of American officials,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, according to RIA news agency.

It is unclear how the ICC could proceed given that the court has no jurisdiction for crimes in Syria because it is not a member of the ICC.

It appears the only way for the case to make it to the ICC would be through the U.N. Security Council referral, which has been deadlocked over Syria. Moscow vetoed a French resolution in May 2014 to refer the situation in Syria to the ICC.

Ayrault said Paris would also seek separate sanctions on the Syrian government at the United Nations once a joint U.N. and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) inquiry concludes on Oct. 21.

The inquiry has identified two Syrian Air Force helicopter squadrons and two other military units it holds responsible for chlorine gas attacks on civilians, Western diplomats have told Reuters.

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“We do not agree with what Russia is doing, bombarding Aleppo. France is committed as never before to saving the population of Aleppo,” Ayrault said.

“If the President decides (to see Putin), this will not be to trade pleasantries,” he added.

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