France threatens Damascus & Moscow with ICC war crimes probe over Aleppo

© Khalil Ashawi
France says it will ask the International Criminal Court to investigate alleged war crimes committed by Russia and Damascus in Aleppo. It comes after Moscow vetoed a French draft resolution at the UN Security Council, saying it was aimed at protecting terrorists.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to visit France on October 19. He and his French counterpart, Francois Hollande, will not just be trading pleasantries, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said.

"We do not agree with what Russia is doing, bombarding Aleppo. France is committed as never before to saving the population of Aleppo," Ayrault told France Inter radio.

In the interview, Ayrault called the Russian and Syrian bombings in Aleppo “war crimes” and said France “shall contact the International Criminal Court prosecutor to see how she can launch these investigations."

"I have not heard of any legal investigations, and I am not going to read the tea leaves," responded Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, when asked about Ayrault's plans during a diplomatic visit to Istanbul on Monday.

The ICC is an international body that has jurisdiction to investigate war crimes under certain circumstances. Syria is among the nations that did not ratify the Rome Statute and is therefore not subject to ICC jurisdiction. Other nations with a similar status include the US and Russia. The UN Security Council can refer cases to the ICC for investigation, but that requires the consent of all permanent members, including Russia.

The ICJ is not to be confused with the ICC. It serves as the legal branch of the UN and has different jurisdiction and scope of authority. The UN Security Council is entitled to enforce ICJ rulings.

The French UN draft resolution sought to impose a no-fly zone over Aleppo, saying it was the only way to prevent civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure in the divided city. Russia said the terrorist group Al-Nusra Front was the leading militant force in eastern Aleppo, meaning the French proposal would de facto protect terrorists.

Moscow and Damascus have repeatedly stressed they are targeting the hideouts of terrorists in Aleppo, who have been jeopardizing the cessation of hostilities. The Russian Foreign Ministry said the French-sponsored resolution “distorted” the real situation in Syria after the US refused to follow the agreement on resolving the crisis.

An alternative proposal submitted to the UN Security Council by Russia called for an immediate halt to the violence in war-ravaged Aleppo, but not for a cessation of anti-terrorist strikes in the city. One of the key elements of the proposal was an urgent need for the separation of so-called moderate rebels from terrorist groups such as Al-Nusra Front in Aleppo, as agreed between Moscow and Washington in Geneva on September 9.

However, Moscow’s resolution draft was rejected.

Last week, US Secretary of State John Kerry made similar accusations to France, although the department later toned down the wording, saying there were certain “violations of international law” that “should be properly investigated.”

READ MORE: No-fly zone in Aleppo would protect Al-Nusra – former Italian FM to RT

Meanwhile, President Hollande said in an interview with TMC television that he was having doubts as to whether to meet with Putin when he visits Paris on October 19.

“The population [of Aleppo] is the victim of war crimes. Those who commit these acts will pay for this responsibility before the international court of justice," Hollande said.

On Monday, the Kremlin said France hadn’t notified it of any changes in the planned visit and that the preparations for it were continuing.

Nicolas Dhuicq, a member of the National Assembly from the center-right Republicans condemned France's desire to confront Russia.

"The French leadership has no understanding of the situation on the ground," he told RT. "The main objective is to eradicate Islamism. Bashar Assad is no saint, but if he is to fall, we will have chaos."

"These measures are not in the interests of France," Damien Lempereur, from the Debout la France party told RT. "France should keep a working relationship with Russia and Iran, so that it has a better chance to influence the situation in the Middle East."