Russia and China on Thursday vetoed a French-drafted UN Security Council resolution on referring the Syria crisis to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for investigation of possible war crimes committed during the country’s ongoing civil war.
It was the fourth time Russia and China have wielded their veto power as permanent council members to block UN action on Syria.
"The draft resolution has not been adopted owing to the negative votes of permanent members of the Council," said South Korea ambassador Oh Joon, rotating president of the chamber.
The resolution would have seen the ICC investigate whether both sides in the Syria conflict have been guilty of war crimes or crimes against humanity.
There were 62 co-sponsors of the resolution, diplomats said, while the 13 other members of the Security Council all voted in favour.
Moscow is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's closest ally, and has provided him with diplomatic cover throughout the crisis. Beijing generally aligns with the Russian position.
Western powers had pressed for the resolution in the face of mounting atrocities in Syria, including chemical attacks, systematic torture, barrel bombings and blocked aid access.
More than 150,000 people have been killed during the conflict.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin walked into the council meeting with a smile, telling reporters, “I’m going to be boringly predictable.”
Churkin, who had called the vote a French “publicity stunt” that would hurt efforts to find a political solution to the crisis, lashed out at France again on Thursday. He asked why France was damaging the unity of the five veto-wielding permanent members, who had agreed on earlier resolutions to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons and on improving delivery of humanitarian aid.
“Is it just to try once again to create a pretext for armed intervention in the Syrian conflict?” Churkin asked.
China’s Deputy UN Ambassador Wang Min argued that a referral to the ICC would not lead to an early resumption of peace talks.
‘A disgrace of historic proportion’
The decision by China and Russia to veto the resolution was criticised by Western diplomats as well as rights groups.
"It’s really disappointing and frankly I don’t understand why Russia and China vetoed this text,” said French Ambassador Gérard Araud in an interview with FRANCE 24. "The resolution was very non-political," he added.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power told the Council that as a result of the vetoes, "the Syrian people will not see justice today". She then read from the testimony of those seeking justice in Syria.
British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant added: “It is to Russia and China’s shame that they have chosen to block efforts to achieve justice for the Syrian people.”
The Security Council has been deeply divided over Syria, with Syrian allies Russia and China at odds with the US, its Western allies and other members who support the opposition.
“Russia and China’s vote for continued impunity is a disgrace of historic proportion,” said Richard Dicker, director of international justice at Human Rights Watch. The opposition Syrian Coalition also called the vetoes a “disgrace”.
The US, Britain and France vowed to keep pursing justice despite Thursday’s defeat.
France’s Araud said Australia, Luxembourg and Jordan are working on a draft resolution that would “further” the Syria humanitarian resolution approved earlier this year, which has largely failed to get aid to millions in need.
Araud later told reporters in an admission of frustration: “There is a moment you feel powerless ... in front of barbarians and their supporters.”
Syria is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court so only the Security Council can decide whether to refer war crimes or crimes against humanity on its territory to the court.
It did the same for Darfur in 2005 and Libya in 2011.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-05-22