A United Nations report on atrocities committed during the Syrian civil war finds it “highly probable” that Syria or its allies carried out attacks on hospitals and schools in Idlib Province last year.
Unmentioned in the report is any specific mention of Russia and their culpability in the atrocities. There is indisputable proof that Russian planes bombed four hospitals in a matter of 12 hours last May.
An analysis of previously unpublished Russian Air Force radio recordings, plane-spotter logs and witness accounts allowed The New York Times to trace bombings of four hospitals in just 12 hours in May and tie Russian pilots to each one.
Russia and its stooge, Syrian President Bashar Assad, opened the bloodiest campaign of the war last year when they launched a vicious offensive in Idlib Province, the last stronghold of Syrian rebels. The United Nations informed all the warring parties of several UN sites in the region, hoping they wouldn’t be bombed.
It turned out to be a forlorn hope.
When Guterres announced the board’s three members in September, he said he was initiating the investigation after claims, especially from human rights and humanitarian groups, that civilian facilities were being targeted despite their coordinates being given to the Syrian military and Russia.
At that time, Russia called the accusations “a lie.” Syria also disputed the allegations, saying it considered several facilities that were hit to have been taken over by terrorist groups and no longer functioning medical facilities.
The six incidents the board investigated involved facilities that were destroyed or damaged as a result of military operations and were on a U.N. “de-confliction” list not to be targeted because they involved health and civilian activities, or were supported by the United Nations.
Even looking into the atrocities was fought by Russia.
War monitors and the health directorate of north-western Idlib province, Syria’s last rebel-held stronghold, say at least 70 healthcare facilities have been hit by regime and Russian bombing in the last 12 months. Last year the New York Times published an exhaustive investigation, notably including recordings of Russian pilots, that directly incriminated Russia in attacks on hospitals in rebel areas.
HRW’s director, Kenneth Roth, wrote on Twitter: “UN secretary general António Guterres gave an excessively narrow mandate to a board of inquiry into attacks on hospitals in Syria, and the inquiry now produces a mealy-mouthed report, all to avoid offending Russia, the prime offender along with Syria.”
The mandate was to investigate only six of the dozens of hospital bombings, strafing of civilian enclaves, and other war crimes that Russia has been a party to over the years. But Guterres and the rest of the UN bureaucracy don’t want to upset Vladimir Putin, fearing retaliation elsewhere the UN needs to operate, like the Congo or Somalia. Russia could make it very hard for the UN to do humanitarian work in those and other areas, so they need to keep Putin placated.
Meanwhile, Turkey and Russia are engaged in an uneasy cease-fire in Idlib, which has put a temporary hold on most of the violence. But there are still a million Syrians displaced by the fighting who now, in addition to wondering where their next meal will come from, have to deal with the coronavirus outbreak in the cramped, desperate conditions of the refugee camps.
If there is a hell, the Syrian people are in it.