Russia's bombing of Syria may amount to a war crime because of the number of civilians its strikes have killed, Amnesty International said on in a report on Wednesday, presenting what it said was evidence that the air raids had violated humanitarian law.
Russia has been accused of using cluster munitions and unguided bombs on civilian areas in Syria in attacks that have killed hundreds of people in the past few months. The said there has been a surge in reports of cluster munitions dropped in areas targeted by Russian forces since Moscow formally joined the conflict on September 30th.
Cluster munitions are by nature indiscriminate and often leave unexploded bomblets on the ground. These can maim and kill civilians long after the end of hostilities.
The report focuses on six attacks in Homs, Idlib and Aleppo provinces between September and November which it says killed at least 200 civilians. It denounced Russia's "shameful failure" to acknowledge civilian killings.
"Some Russian air strikes appear to have directly attacked civilians or civilian objects by striking residential areas with no evident military target and even medical facilities, resulting in deaths and injuries to civilians," said Philip Luther, director of Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa programme. "Such attacks may amount to war crimes."
The accusations follow a report by New York-based Human Rights Watch last week which said cluster munitions were used on at least 20 occasions since Syria and Russia began their joint offensive.
Russia started its campaign of air strikes against militants in September saying it wanted to help the Kremlin’s main Middle East ally, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, defeat Islamic State and other militant groups.
It has repeatedly and forcefully denied targeting civilians, saying it takes great care to avoid bombing residential areas.
When asked by Reuters to comment on the Amnesty allegations, the Russian defence ministry said it had no immediate comment, while the Russian foreign ministry said it first needed to study the report before giving any official reaction.