United Nations — UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told UN Security Council members of credible reports of civilians in Aleppo being summarily executed during an emergency meeting held on Tuesday.
However despite Ban’s words of warning about the unfolding crisis, divisions within the Security Council were as evident as ever with Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin suggesting that the UN Secretariat — led by Ban — may be being used an instrument in a “cynical game.”
In his briefing Ban said that as the council met “civilian deaths and injuries continue(d) at a brutal pace.”
“The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has received reports of civilians, including women and children, in four neighbourhoods being rounded up and executed,” said Ban.
The meeting took place as Syrian government forces took the city of Aleppo. Churkin announced midway through the meeting that “the Syrian government has established control over eastern Aleppo.”
Ban noted that while “Syrian authorities have systematically denied us the presence on the ground to directly verify reports… this does not mean that the reports that we are receiving are not credible.”
However Churkin took issue with Ban’s words as well as those of other Security Council members, accusing them of spreading “fake news.”
“Young kids are being covered with dust in order to be presented as victims of bombings,” Churkin told journalists after the meeting.
In August, video and photographs of five year-old Omran Daqneesh, covered in blood and dust after his home in Aleppo was bombed, spread around the world.
In October Syrian President Bashar al-Assad claimed that the photos were manipulated and forged. Assad’s comments seemingly contradicted his own wife Asma who had told Russian television that what had happened to Aylan Kurdi and Omran Daqneesh was “a tragedy.”
While Churkin began his statement by referring to “propaganda,” “disinformation” and “fake news” it appears that Syria’s Permanent Representative to the UN Bashar Ja’afari may also have engaged in this practice during the meeting itself.
During his address to the council Ja’afari held up images, including a photograph he claimed showed Syrian forces helping civilians, however according to Syrian journalist Hadi Alabdallah on Twitter one of the images was originally from Iraq.
Aside from Russia and Venezuela, the majority of UN member states addressing the meeting expressed support for Ban’s concerns for the civilians of Aleppo.
“I choose to believe the Secretary-General when he comes to this Council and tells us there are credible reports of atrocities being committed,” said Gerard van Bohemen, New Zealand’s permanent representative to the UN.
Van Bohemen turned claims from Ja’afari that the UN couldn’t independently verify reports back on the Syrian government which has refused access to independent UN observers.
“The UN is not on the ground, the UN is not able to verify, so it’s no good coming back and telling us you’ve done all these reports and investigations yourself because no one’s there to check on you,” said van Bohemen.
Looking to what happens next Ban called on pro-Assad forces “to ensure that those who have surrendered or been captured are treated humanely and in line with international law.”
Ban said that the Syrian government had chosen the path of a “total, uncompromising military victory,” a departure from UN efforts which have struggled to find a political solution to the conflict over many months of on-again, off-again talks.
“History will not easily absolve us, but this failure compels us to do even more to offer the people of Aleppo our solidarity at this moment,” said Ban.
Staffan de Mistura the UN’s Special Envoy for Syria told journalists after the meeting that the military acceleration was not likely to lead to peace, and that the conflict could “continue for many years.
“So this is actually the best moment to insist that a peace process needs to be restarted,” said de Mistura.