Syrians accuse Russia of hitting hospital in new complaint filed with U.N. rights committee

BEIRUT (Reuters) - A Syrian man and an aid organisation have accused Russia of violating international law by deliberately bombing a hospital in northern Syria in 2019, in a new complaint filed at the United Nations Human Rights Committee this week.

Russia, which intervened militarily in Syria's conflict in 2015 to bolster the forces of its ally President Bashar al-Assad, has been accused by U.N. investigators of committing war crimes in Syria, but has not faced any international tribunal.

Moscow has repeatedly denied accusations that it violated international law in Syria.

The new complaint, filed on May 1 but made public on Thursday, accuses Russia's Air Force of killing two civilians in a series of air strikes on the Kafr Nobol Surgical Hospital in the northwest province of Idlib on May 5, 2019.

It was brought to the committee by the cousin of those killed and by Hand in Hand for Aid and Development, an aid group that was supporting the hospital, which was in territory held by armed groups opposed to Assad.

The complaint relies on videos, eyewitness statements and audio recordings, including correspondence between a Russian pilot and ground control about dropping munitions.

"Syrians are looking to the Human Rights Committee to show us some measure of redress by acknowledging the truth of this brutal attack, and the suffering caused," said Fadi al-Dairi, the director of Hand in Hand.

The Geneva-based Human Rights Committee is a body of independent experts that monitors the status of political and civil rights around the world, and can receive complaints by states and individuals on alleged violations.

Individual complaints can lead to compensation payments, investigations or other measures.

While rights groups have accused both Syria and Russia of violating international law within Syria for years, neither country is party to the International Criminal Court's Rome Statute, and opportunities for accountability are rare.

Russia signed onto the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1991, meaning it accepts the Human Rights Committee's ability to consider complaints from individuals against it.

"This complaint before a preeminent international human rights tribunal exposes the Russian government and armed forces' deliberate strategy of targeting healthcare in clear violation of the laws of war," said James A. Goldston, executive director of the Justice Initiative, whose lawyers are representing the applicants.

In 2019, the U.N. Human Rights Commission - a separate body - said strikes on medical facilities in Syria including the Kafr Nobol hospital "strongly" suggested that "government-affiliated forces conducting these strikes are, at least partly, if not wholly, deliberately striking health facilities".

(Reporting by Maya Gebeily, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)