On Tuesday, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said that Russia should be investigated for war crimes for its bombardment of Aleppo, Syria’s second city. Russia is “guilty of making the war far more protracted and far more hideous, and yes, when it comes up, the bombing of civilian targets, we should be looking … to see if the targeting is done in the knowledge they are wholly innocent civilian targets.”
He called for protests outside the Russian embassy in London, and said “the mills of justice grind slowly, but they grind small,” as he predicted those responsible would one day face the International Criminal Court. Russia insists that it does not target civilians with its strikes; only terrorists.
US Secretary of State John Kerry last week said attacks by Russia and the Syrian government on hospitals were “beyond the accidental,” and that Aleppo could be completely wiped out by December. French President Francois Hollande has argued that those who commit war crimes will “have to face up to their responsibility.” Putin has since cancelled his planned visit to France.
So, should Russia be hauled before the ICC? Experts including Martin Fletcher, former Foreign Editor of the Times, and Robert Fry, former Deputy Commanding General of coalition forces in Iraq, answer.
Martin Fletcher is a former Foreign Editor of the Times
Russia has undoubtedly committed war crimes in Syria. I would love to see Putin hauled before the International Criminal Court. But to demand that course of action now is the empty rhetoric of western officials who are desperate to be seen doing something about the atrocities unfolding in Aleppo but have no idea what.
There may come a time when the perpetrators of those crimes can be brought to justice, and western nations are right to be collecting evidence for that moment, but it is not now. Neither Russia or Syria are subject to the ICC’s jurisdiction because neither have ratified the Rome Statute which established it. Alternatively, the UN Security Council could refer Russia to the ICC, but guess which member of that council would veto such a move?
Putin will rightly interpret the fulminations of the US, Britain and France not as a threat, but as further proof of their weakness.
Alison McGovern is Labour MP for Wirral South
When hospitals are deliberately bombed, that means war crimes are being committed in Syria and those responsible must be held to account. This is vital, not just to uphold the integrity of international law but to deter aggressors from committing further illegal acts.
The UK has the capability to assist using our monitoring aircraft and destroyers to track Syrian and Russian aircraft and identify the perpetrators of atrocities. In addition, I fully support the French proposal to get an ICC prosecutor to investigate Russian attacks on civilians. For a UN Security Council member to be acting in this way, seemingly without consequence, undermines the entire concept of international law and it cannot be allowed to go unchallenged.
When the people of Syria are calling out for help, we must act and any aggressors must face justice for the greatest crime of this century.
Robert Fry is former Deputy Commanding General of coalition forces in Iraq
In 1916, Mark Sykes, Georges Picot and Andrey Sasonov sat down to re-draw the map of the Middle East in anticipation of the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The Russian Revolution intervened and Sergey Sazonov, the Russian foreign minister, was airbrushed out of what became the seminal Sykes/Picot Agreement. But the fact that Russia has legitimate—and enduring—interests in the region is as true in 2016 as in 1916. That it pursues them by supporting the odious Bashar al Assad is no advertisement, but is there a more fragrant alternative and does any country have a viable alternative plan? That its support involves the bombing of civilians is deeply reprehensible but no different to the Saudis in Yemen and Boris Johnson has yet to call for demonstrations against the Saudi embassy. The civil war in Syria is nasty, brutish and long; at least the Russians can see an endgame.