Russia and China vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution Thursday that would have referred grave human rights abuses in Syria for investigation to the International Criminal Court at The Hague.
The draft resolution received 13 votes in favor, had 65 co-sponsors among U.N. member states and the support of more than 100 nongovernmental organizations. But the effort to seek accountability for mass murders, rapes, torture and other grave crimes committed by all parties to the conflict failed because Russia and China exercised their right of veto.
It was the fourth time since the conflict began in March 2011 that the two council members blocked action on Syria in the council.
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said the outcome of the vote was just as much about accountability for the 15-nation council, which has a responsibility to stop atrocities, as it was about justice for the Syrian people.
“Sadly, because of the decision by the Russian Federation to back the Syrian regime no matter what it does, the Syrian people will not see justice today. They will see crime, but not punishment,” Powers said.
She noted that the vetoes protect not just President Bashar al-Assad and his “henchmen” but also terrorist groups operating in Syria.
A moral act
France drafted the resolution. Ambassador Gérard Araud urged council members ahead of the vote to support it, saying it was a moral act, not a political gesture.
“In the face of this denial of values represented by this organization, nothing is worse than silence, because silence is acquiescence, it is consent, it is complicity,” he said.
Araud reminded council members of the more than 150,000 dead, the millions of refugees and internally displaced people, and the barbarity of crimes committed against civilians. He dismissed criticisms that a referral to the International Criminal Court could hurt peace talks between the parties, noting there is no chance for negotiations to resume in the short or medium term.
Russian envoy Vitaly Churkin questioned France’s motives in bringing the resolution to the council, saying it was fully aware of “the fate it would meet.”
“The draft resolution rejected today reveals an attempt to use the ICC to further inflame political passions and lay the groundwork in the end for eventual outside military intervention.”
France’s envoy called the accusation an “absurdity.”
Syria’s U.N. ambassador circulated a letter to diplomats this week asking them not to support the draft resolution, saying the language was “biased” and “politicized.”
The Syrian Coalition, which supported the draft, condemned the double veto. Coalition representative Najib Ghadbian said in a statement that Russia has “aided and abetted Syria’s war machine” through its provision of weapons and now was ensuring that crimes committed with those weapons would go unpunished.
Other situations referred to court
The council has previously referred the situations in both the Darfur region of Sudan and in Libya to the International Criminal Court. The court deals only with crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide.
Without the council’s authorization, Syria’s case will not be referred to the ICC. Cases can only go to the court if the council refers them or if the country in question is a party to the treaty that created the court. Syria is not a party.
Continued divisions in the council will be tested again in the coming weeks as members prepare a follow-up resolution on the humanitarian situation in Syria. It will call for cross-border aid deliveries into the country from specific border crossings and without requiring the government’s permission.