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Of course, it’s always nice to receive praise. But when we heard that the Russian Foreign Ministry was lauding one of our Syria reports, expressing the hope that:

…the voice of a respected human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch, will be heard by the international community and, above all, those countries that are directly mentioned in the report as sponsors gangs involved in heinous and systematic violations of human rights in Syria.

we were more than flattered. “Surprised” might be the better word.

For the past two years, Moscow has most often ignored Human Rights Watch reporting on Syria, particularly in recent months. When we documented a government air strike on a school earlier this month, we didn’t hear much from Russia, same as when our reporting showed repeated and indiscriminate aerial attacks on civilians in April. Our research into political detainees being tortured and killed brought little interest in Moscow. Any Russian concern about our revelations of mass executions by government forces or the use of cluster munitions? Judging from its statements, the answer is nyet.

And when Human Rights Watch demonstrated that the Syrian government was most likely behind the mass chemical attacks in the suburbs of Damascus on August 21, Russian diplomats spent an unusual amount of time trying to resist our evidence and that in the UN inspectors’ “Selstrom Report”, which pointed the finger in exactly the same direction. In its efforts to prove that the Syrian government was not responsible, Moscow relied on dubious sources, including some conspiracy-driven websites and a “detective nun”.

Alas, the only logical explanation why the Russian Foreign Ministry would all of a sudden come out with praise for one of our Syria reports is because the new report blames some rebel groups for atrocities, rather than government forces. One would expect Russia would want to be seen as more even-handed than that.

Still, since Moscow now respects our reporting, one can hope we’ll see the government backing our recommendations, too. In particular, it would be great to see Russia support a referral of the Syria situation to the International Criminal Court(ICC). That would give the ICC a mandate to investigate graves crimes by all sides and send a clear message to all parties that atrocities will not be tolerated and carry serious consequences.

Surely, if Russia agrees with the reporting of these crimes, Moscow can get behind the idea of accountability for them.

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