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High civilian casualties in Russian air strikes in Syria may constitute war crimes: Amnesty International - Daily News Egypt

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High civilian casualties in Russian air strikes in Syria may constitute war crimes: Amnesty International

Moscow-based analyst questions reliance on witness testimony and Amnesty's institutional bias

Amnesty International linked the deaths of at least 200 civilians to Russian air strikes in Syria in a report issued on  Wednesday, which the international organisation claimed may be grounds for formal charges of war crimes in the International Criminal Court.

Russia, which has made public statements of support for the Bashar Al-Assad regime, began to conduct air strikes in Syria under the pretext of an antiterrorism campaign combating ”Islamic State” (IS).

Moscow has denied that it targets civilians, saying that it takes great care to avoid bombing residential areas.

However, Amnesty International Director of the Middle East programme Philip Luther pointed to the witness testimony gathered by the organisation to counter Moscow’s long-standing dismissal of its critics.

“The Russian strikes targeted civilians or civil areas directly […] Those strikes may account for war crimes.”

In comments to Daily News Egypt, Andrew Korybko, a Moscow-based political analyst and journalist for Sputnik news agency and an expert at the Institute for Strategic Studies and Predictions, questioned the legitimacy of the report for its overreliance on witness testimony given that the political reality in Syria is opaque.

He further pointed to Amnesty International’s location in the Western political world and the resultant institutional bias assumed to come with being a Western-based non-governmental organisation.

The charges of war crimes contribute to a historical precedent of information wars waged against Russia, according to Korybko.

According Korybko, witness testimony does not provide legitimate proof for an objective report as it is open to capture by political allegiances, some of which are positioned against Russia in the factional conflict.

“In both instances, this sloppy misinformation attempt falls flat on its face, as it only appeals to those that already have a preconceived negative notion about Russia, which in the case of the West are political Russophobes and in Syria are Islamist sympathisers loyal to their regional patrons like Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. In either case, they will never be receptive to the truth and believe such falsehoods for their own reasons,” Korybko continued.

British online investigative journalism group Bellingcat has compared information available on open-source map databases, such as Google Maps, with the videos of Russia’s air strikes that the Russian Ministry of Defence has uploaded onto its YouTube channel and other platforms, in a process called geolocation analysis.

“In at least two examples the Russian Ministry of Defence has claimed videos show airstrikes against ISIS in Raqqa, but the videos have been geolocated to locations over a hundred miles away, with no known ISIS presence,” according to a recent Bellingcat report.

According to Bellingcat’s electronic investigation, “the overwhelming majority of Russian airstrikes have targeted positions held by non-ISIS rebel groups posing a more immediate threat to the Syrian regime and its head, Bashar al-Assad”.

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