U.N.'s Zeid cool on Syrian opposition plan to bypass Russian veto

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein attends a media briefing at the U.N. European headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland October 12, 2016. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

By Tom Miles GENEVA (Reuters) - The top U.N. human rights official repeated his call on Wednesday for a dilution of big powers' United Nations veto in cases of serious war crimes, but he gave little support to Syrian opposition hopes of strong-arming Russia over eastern Aleppo. Russian war planes have bombed rebel-held eastern Aleppo in the past two weeks in support of Syrian and allied ground forces who are besieging about 275,000 civilians. The United Nations says hospitals have been hit and more than 400 people killed. Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said last week that Security Council veto powers should be curbed to help resolve the situation and bring Syria under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. France and Britain back the proposal, Zeid told a news briefing in Geneva on Wednesday, adding: "We would hope that the United States, Russia and China would likewise follow." But he appeared to give short shrift to a proposal for the wider membership of the U.N. General Assembly to take the matter into its own hands and override the 15-nation Security Council, under a U.N. resolution dating from 1950, known as "Uniting for Peace". The opposition Syrian Coalition said on Tuesday its vice-president Abdul Ahad Steifo would ask friendly countries to press for action under "Uniting for Peace", which says the General Assembly can step in if disagreements among the veto-wielding powers mean they fail to maintain international peace. "It's not strictly a human rights issue as such," Zeid said. "The mechanism was used first in respect of Korea and has been used in respect of the situation in Palestine many times, so it is a device well known to diplomats in New York. "Our preference would still be that the permanent members of the Security Council voluntarily desist from using the veto (when there is evidence of serious violations of international law)", he said. Zeid asked whose security was being protected by the Security Council and, recalling his U.N. experience in the war in former Yugoslavia, said the world could not continue every decade or so to find itself in a situation where a densely packed urban population was under bombardment. "You cannot believe this is happening, and the fear and the horror of the people in those circumstances is hardly possible in the 21st century... How could we still be doing this? There are rules," he said. (Reporting by Tom Miles and Stephanie Nebehay; writing by Tom Miles, editing by Angus MacSwan)

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