Russia and China vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution to refer allegations of war crimes in Syria’s civil war to the International Criminal Court, underscoring the UN’s inability to halt atrocities or resolve the three-year conflict.
Thirteen of the council’s 15 members voted yesterday for a French-drafted text calling for The Hague-based court’s prosecutor to investigate all warring parties. Russia and China, two of the five permanent council members with veto power, blocked passage of the resolution, which had been endorsed by more than 60 countries and 100 nongovernmental organizations.
Ahmad al-Jarba, president of the Syrian Opposition Coalition, condemned the outcome in a statement, calling it “a veto against justice” that “gives the criminal regime and extremists in Syria a license to kill.”
Russia and China, whose ties were bolstered on May 21 by a $400 billion gas deal, had blocked three previous council actions threatening sanctions against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Russia’s top Mideast ally and weapons buyer.
Russia and China’s rejection of council efforts to impose consequences for blocking humanitarian aid and for attacks against civilians has paralyzed the council as more than 160,000 people have died and 9 million Syrians have fled their homes over the past three years.
“The council’s current deadlock over Syria is one of the most historic moments at the UN,” said Liechtenstein Ambassador to the UN Christian Wenaweser, who served as president of the International Criminal Court’s oversight and legislative body in 2008-2011. “We haven’t had anything like this since the end of the Cold War.”
Before the vote, French UN Ambassador Gerard Araud told the Security Council that his government pushed for yesterday’s resolution out of a “moral duty” to the Syrian people because a UN-mediated peace process collapsed in February with no prospect for resumption in the “short to medium-term.”
“There is nothing worse than silence,” Araud said. “It is acquiescence. It is consent. It is complicity. This is not a political gesture. It is a moral act.”
Referring the Syrian crisis to the international court wouldn’t have helped end the violence and would have laid the ground for military intervention, Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin said. He criticized his counterparts for pushing ahead with the vote although they knew it would be vetoed.
“Why deal such a blow to the permanent five’s unity at this stage?” Churkin said, referring to the Security Council’s five permanent members. Saying that allegations of war crimes in Syria are unconfirmed and based on unverifiable sources, he said, “Is it just to try once again to create a pretext for armed intervention in the Syrian conflict?”
U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power said Russia and China’s obstructionism provides “impunity not just for Assad, but terrorist groups, as well.”
“Today is about accountability for Syria, but it is also about accountability for this Security Council,” Power said. “Sadly, because of the decision of the Russian Federation to back the Syrian regime no matter what it does, the Syrian people will not see justice.”
“There should be accountability for those members of the council who prevented accountability,” she added.
Three non-permanent Security Council members, Luxembourg, Jordan and Australia, will soon put to a vote their draft resolution ordering the Syrian government to open four border crossings to humanitarian assistance delivery, according to two council diplomats who weren’t authorized to comment by name on closed-door deliberations.
The draft resolution won’t mention any threats of punitive council action in event of non-compliance, a move the UN’s top humanitarian official Valerie Amos has indirectly called for.
The Syrian government is “failing in its responsibility to look after its own people” by denying aid, while infighting among the moderate armed opposition, Islamist and al-Qaeda affiliated groups intensifies, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his latest report, released yesterday, on the humanitarian situation in Syria.
More than 3.5 million Syrians are in areas difficult or impossible for aid to reach while about 241,000 remain trapped in sieges waged by either the Syrian government or the opposition, according to the report.