Syria debate: MPs accuse Russia of war crimes in Aleppo

Russia's bombing of Aleppo likened to Nazis in Guernica during Spanish Civil War


Russian attacks on civilians in Aleppo have been denounced as war crimes by MPs of both parties in an ongoing debate in parliament on how to respond to the humanitarian crisis.

An emergency motion on Russia’s bombing of the Syrian city was called by Andrew Mitchell, a Conservative Party MP who chaired the All-Party Parliamentary Group Friends of Syria with the late Labour MP Jo Cox.

The debate saw Boris Johnson, in his first Commons speech as Foreign Secretary, say Russia risks becoming a ‘pariah nation’, and he backed calls for a war crimes investigation.

It follows calls from Labour and Momentum activists for Jeremy Corbyn to condemn Russian bombings and support humanitarian efforts.

In an impassioned speech to a near-empty Commons chamber, Mitchell said Russia was ‘behaving like a raging elephant, shredding international humanitarian law, abusing it’s veto powers on the UN security council, using that veto to protect itself from its own war crimes.’

In response to a question, Mitchell said:

‘The Russians are doing, Mr Speaker, to the United Nations precisely what Italy and Germany did to the League of Nations in the 1930s, and they are doing to Aleppo precisely what the Nazis did to Guernica in the Spanish Civil War.’

He gave the example of the destruction of the underground M10 hospital in Aleppo with bunker-busting bombs, saying: ‘The location of that hospital was known to every combatant. There’s no doubt Mr Speaker that attacking that hospital was an international war crime.’

Mitchell called for a no-bombing zone and urgent humanitarian aid to the 275,000 people in Aleppo, and backed calls for referring Russia to the International Criminal Court. He said:

‘This is not about attacking Russia, it’s about defending innocent civilians, basic humanitarian decency and protection from a barbarism and tyranny we hoped we had consigned to the last century.’

Mitchell was seconded by MPs across the House, including from many Labour MPs.

Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry, responding to Mitchell’s statement, recognised the plight of people in Aleppo, but called for ‘more statesmanship, less brinkmanship’, and renewed efforts for a peace deal brokered by the US and Russia.

Her four point action plan stressed the need to ‘de-escalate overseas military involvement in the conflict of all 14 other nations involved including ourselves, and that is how we will create corridors for aid, and that is how we will stop the destruction of Aleppo by Christmas, and that is how we will stop the suffering of its people’.

Thornberry was criticised by some Labour MPs, including John Woodcock, who called the Labour front bench an ‘irrelevance’.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson endorsed calls to refer Russian actions in Aleppo to the ICC, saying attacks on hospitals were so accurate they appeared to be deliberate.

He added:

‘If Russia continues in its current path, then I believe that great country is in danger of becoming a pariah nation.

And if President Putin’s strategy is to restore the greatness and the glory of Russia, then I believe he risks seeing his ambition turn to ashes in the face of international contempt for what is happening in Syria.’

Johnson ruled out a no-fly zone for the time being, saying ‘we cannot do that unless we are prepared to shoot down planes and helicopters that violate that zone, and we need to think very carefully about the consequences’.

He said more pressure should be put on Russia’s government for a ceasefire so peace talks can be resumed. He concluded:

‘this House and our constituents are disgusted by the behaviour of Assad and his regime, and that in Moscow and in Damascas, I hope they will hear the message from British MPs that we are willing to consider anything, honestly and practically, that can be done to bring peace and hope back to Syria.’

The general consensus among MPs today over the crisis in Aleppo suggests a vote could be proposed on further action now parliament has reconvened. The subject will likely come up in tomorrow’s Prime Minister’s Questions.

Adam Barnett is staff writer for Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter @AdamBarnett13 

See: Jeremy Corbyn must ‘break silence’ on Assad and Russian bombings

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