Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has allegedly, for the first time, been personally linked to the use of banned chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict. Despite this, Security Council member states have opted to not put forward a draft resolution on imposing sanctions due to expectations of a Russian veto.
The Joint Investigative Mechanism, a joint inquiry for the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons mandated by the Security Council to identify individuals and organizations responsible for chemical attacks in Syria, has identified Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his brother as linked to chemical attacks, Reuters reported in mid-January.
This has raised the question of imposing sanctions on al-Assad and other high-ranking individuals connected to chemical attacks. Already in December, the United Kingdom and France drafted a resolution to impose sanctions on key individuals, but the draft resolution was never put to a vote, as it was expected that Russia would veto any attempt to hold the Syrian regime accountable.
Those expectations do not seem to have changed. In the final days of the Obama administration, the United States pushed for the UK and France to put the draft resolution to a vote, but with no success. According to Security Council diplomats, the reluctance to introduce the draft resolution is due to issues of timing. There is fear that if the draft resolution was introduced and vetoed as expected, it could reverse the fragile positive trend that has allowed two resolutions to be unanimously adopted and peace talks in Astana to be arranged. Additionally, it is believed a vetoed resolution could essentially kill any chance of holding Syrian authorities accountable in the future. There is also uncertainty related to the change of administrations in the United States; it is still unknown how the Trump presidency may change council dynamics on the issue.
As a result of the lack of council action, the United States decided to move ahead with unilateral sanctions targeting 18 Syrian government officials. Those targets include several intelligence chiefs linked to the regime’s use of chlorine gas on civilians in 2014 and 2015.
2016 has drawn to a close. It has been an eventful year in international affairs, to say the least. Stop Illegitimate Vetoes looks back at the year in the Security Council and some of the veto-related issues of the past twelve months.
2016 started with an announcement from North Korea that the country had successfully detonated a hydrogen bomb in an underground test site. The announcement was soon followed by a ballistic missile test, which constituted a breach of previous Security Council resolutions. The actions caused the Security Council to impose sanctions on the already isolated country. This is despite the fact that China, its only ally, is a veto-wielding state. It seems China has run out of patience with its smaller neighbour, and subsequent tests have resulted in heavier sanctions and unanimous condemnations from the Security Council.
China’s decision not to shield its ally may have been somewhat surprising, but it was nothing compared to a similar decision by the United States. On the 23rd of December, the Security Council adopted a resolution stating that Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory constitute a violation of international law and pose an obstacle to a two-state solution and lasting peace. The United States, which traditionally has used its veto to block resolutions condemning Israeli actions, abstained from voting, allowing the resolution to be adopted – drawing heavy criticism from Israelis and Americans alike. The abstention came after months of speculation that Barack Obama would allow a resolution addressing the situation to pass before leaving office in mid-January.
South Sudan has also figured in the Security Council’s dealings. During the year there has been talk about an arms embargo to limit the prevalence of arms in the countries, amidst fears of an impending genocide. Both Russia and China had expressed scepticism of such a measure. But, as a draft resolution was voted on in December, both chose to abstain rather than to veto against it. Despite this, the resolution was not adopted as it did not receive enough votes in favour.
The main veto-related situation of the year was, of course, Syria. All three vetoes that were cast in 2016 blocked draft resolutions addressing Syria. On the 8th of October, Russia vetoed a resolution calling for a cessation of hostilities and the establishment of a no-fly zone over the city of Aleppo, as well as unhindered access for humanitarian aid and that perpetrators of atrocities be held accountable. This was the first Russian veto on a draft resolution on Syria that was not joined by a Chinese veto, as China instead abstained from voting. Two months later, however, things were back to normal as China joined Russia in vetoing another draft resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire. The two Russian vetoes mean that Russia has surpassed the United States as the most frequent user of the veto since 1991. Read more about how the veto has been used since 1991 in Stop Illegitimate Vetoes’ report “Legitimate Concerns”, which has been updated to include the most recent vetoes.
The deadlock in the Security Council over Syria led to increased criticism of the council and the veto. Stephen O’Brien, the humanitarian chief of the United Nations, was one of the most vocal critics, calling Syria “our generation’s shame”. The deadlock also increased calls for alternative ways to address the situation, without involving the Security Council. More than 200 civil society organizations signed an appeal calling on the General Assembly to act in accordance with the 1950’s “Uniting for Peace” mechanism. There also seems to be some support for such a course of action amongst member states as well: in October, Canada gained the support by over 60 states to convene an informal meeting on the situation in Syria, a way to gauge the support for going ahead with “Uniting for Peace”. In December, there were allegedly over 70 states supporting such a move. 2016 has also seen increased support for the French Initiative and the ACT-group’s Code of Conduct, aiming to restrain the use of the veto, with almost 120 member states now supporting at least one of the two initiatives.
Last, but not least, Antonio Guterres was elected as the new Secretary-General of the United Nations. The process in which he was elected has been hailed as historically transparent, with public hearings of candidates and more attention paid to their visions and agendas for the coming years. Still, the decision was the Security Council’s to be made, and the customary secret ballots were held to see if there was a candidate with enough support from Council members. In the end, Antonio Guterres emerged as the clear favourite, and when it was evident that there would be no veto against him, he was quickly nominated by the Security Council and confirmed by the General Assembly.
Guterres has a tough time ahead of him, as does the United Nations at large. Turning to 2017, there will be plenty of issues around the world to be dealt with, and the veto will surely remain an obstacle. Syria will continue to be the single most pressing issue for the Security Council, which is still divided over how to handle the situation. North Korea seems to enjoy its time in the spotlight, as it started off 2017 in much the same way as they did 2016 – with nuclear sabre rattling. How far China is ready to go in order to contain its unruly neighbour remains to be seen. Developing crises and humanitarian catastrophes in countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi and Yemen are increasingly demanding the Security Council’s attention, and it is not yet clear whether the Security Council can face these issues united, or if tensions and divisions will continue to obstruct the body’s work. As Donald Trump takes over as President of the United States, we are unlikely to see more action relating to Israel and Palestine; Trump was very critical of the United States’ recent abstention, and during his campaign he vowed to veto any draft resolution addressing the situation.
Trump’s presidency may also cause a larger upset of council dynamics, as he has advocated for closer ties between the U.S. and Russia and for more ruthless action in Syria. He has questioned the value of the United Nations, and has shown disregard for its humanitarian and legal underpinnings. This may strain the relation between the “P3” – The United States, the United Kingdom, and France – and shift alignments in the Security Council. The coming French elections, which may bring Marine Le Pen to power, brings further uncertainty, not least with respect to the future of the French initiative on veto reform.
In 2017, the world will need to intensify the demands for veto reform. Join us in taking action against the use of the veto in the Security Council. If you want to contribute to VetoWatch, or engage with the Stop Illegitimate Vetoes campaign in some other way, do not hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The United Nations Security Council was able to adopt a resolution emphasizing that Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory have no legal validity. The resolution was adopted as the United States abstained rather than use its veto, as it has frequently done in the past.
On Friday the 23rd of December, the Security Council adopted a resolution stating that Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory constitute a violation of international law and pose an obstacle to a two-state solution and lasting peace. The resolution demands that Israel cease all settlement activities in the territory, including East Jerusalem, and stresses that these activities are a threat to the two-state solution. The resolution also calls for intensified diplomatic efforts to achieve a lasting peace in the region.
The resolution was adopted with 14 votes in favor. The United States, who has frequently vetoed draft resolutions addressing the situation, abstained from voting, allowing the resolution to be adopted. The most recent veto from the United States was in 2011, on a draft resolution bearing some similarities to the one passed on the 23rd, and it has long been suspected that President Obama would allow a resolution addressing the Israeli settlements, of which he has been critical, to pass before the inauguration of Donald Trump on the 20th of January. Donald Trump has been critical of the resolution.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the decision “shameful”, and has instructed the Foreign Ministry to re-assess the country’s ties with the United Nations. Already, the country has cancelled funding for five U.N. institutions it deems “especially hostile” to Israel.
The resolution was initially presented to the Security Council by Egypt, but was withdrawn before the vote after Israel had asked Donald Trump to intervene as it feared the United States would abstain. The resolution was re-introduced by Malaysia, New Zealand, Senegal, and Venezuela.
After two draft resolutions addressing the situation in the Syrian city of Aleppo have failed to be adopted this autumn due to Russian and Chinese vetoes, the Security Council has finally agreed on a resolution to send observers to the city to monitor the evacuation of civilians.
Monday the 19th of December, the Security Council unanimously voted for a draft resolution that would deploy UN observers to monitor the evacuation of civilians from Aleppo. The resolution is the result of three hours of private discussions, after France circulated a draft resolution suggesting UN observers on Friday, that Russia threatened to veto. Russia proceeded to table its own draft resolution, which allegedly did not mention observers specifically but called for arrangements to monitor the condition of civilians remaining in Aleppo.
The adopted resolution reportedly asks the Secretary-General “to take urgent steps to make arrangements, including security arrangements in consultation with interested parties, to allow the observation by the UN and other relevant institutions of the well-being of civilians… inside the eastern districts of Aleppo”. It also called for “adequate, neutral monitoring and direct observation on evacuations from eastern Aleppo and other districts of the city”.
Evacuations from Aleppo started on Thursday under a deal that allows Syrian government forces to take full control over the city, the eastern parts of which has long been controlled by rebel groups. Disagreements caused the evacuations to stall on Friday, and on Sunday some of the buses meant to carry out the evacuation were attacked and set on fire. Operations resumed on Monday, with 5 000 people leaving Aleppo in 75 buses.
The words “our generation’s shame” was used by Stephen O’Brien last month, when describing the Security Council’s inability to act when it comes to the situation for the civilians of Aleppo. In a press release, the Head of Amnesty International’s UN Office, Sherine Tadros, also decided to describe the Security Council “shameful.”
“It is becoming clearer every day that the UN Security Council has failed the Syrian people.” Those are the words of Sherine Tadros, Head of Amnesty International’s UN Office, as the organization appeals to the member states of the United Nations to call an Emergency Special Session of the General Assembly to do what the Security Council cannot. Besides Amnesty, 222 other civil society organizations have signed the appeal.
The appeal calls on member states to “demand and end to all unlawful attacks in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria, and immediate and unhindered humanitarian access so that life-saving aid can reach all those in need.” The appeal also highlights the need for accountability, and that those committing serious crimes against international law are brought to justice.
It is not the first time the Security Council has been criticized over its inability to act over the war in Syria. During the last few month, UN staff such as Stephen O’Brien, the UN’s humanitarian chief, and Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria, have both warned against letting the situation continue unabated and called for Security Council action. Sherine Tadros adds to that criticism: “There have been almost half a million deaths, and each one is a stark rebuke of the Security Council, the supposed guardian of international peace and security, which has allowed a political deadlock to stand in the way of saving lives.”
Reportedly, a draft resolution on a 10-day truce in Aleppo is being circulated in the Security Council. It remains to be seen if Russia, who last vetoed a resolution calling for an end to aerial bombardments and an investigation into alleged war crimes in early October, will let such a resolution pass. For the sake of the Syrian people it should – but it may be too little too late as, hundreds of thousands of people have already suffered the fatal consequences of war.
After the U.S.-Russian brokered ceasefire ceased to be two weeks ago, the fighting in Syria has entered a new phase. The last two weeks have been the worst since the start of the conflict five and a half years ago. Still, the veto blocks the Security Council from taking action.
“Barbarism.” That is how Samantha Power, the United States’ ambassador to the UN, described the Syrian and Russian airstrikes in Aleppo. During the last offensive, which has lasted two weeks, more than 400 civilians, many of them children, have died. 250 000 civilians remain trapped in the bombings and major hospitals and humanitarian convoys have been targeted, exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in the city. Several world leaders and United Nations officials have condemned the attacks, labeling them war crimes.
Still, the Security Council remains blocked from taking action. Russia’s support for the Assad regime in Syria, and their part in the current bombings, means any attempt from the Security Council to act would be blocked by a Russian veto. Discussions at the Security Council have led nowhere, as Russian and U.S. diplomats disagree, and a diplomatic solution looks distant. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has warned that the U.S. is on the verge of ending diplomatic talks with Russia, as those are seen as futile, and instead move on to other options.
Since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011, at least 250 000 people have been killed, with independent organization Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimating the true number to be about 430 000. More than 4,8 million people have fled abroad, and 6,5 million others have been displaced within the country.
A report accusing the Syrian government as well as the Islamic State for using chemical weapons in Syria has been presented to the United Nations Security Council, but due to Russian critique, it may not lead to any Security Council action.
The United Nations Security Council is, once again, deadlocked. On this occasion, the disagreement concerns a report, published by the United Nations and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The inquiry, conducted by mentioned organisation, concerns the use of chemical weapons in Syria during the current conflict, and has been going on for over a year with the authorisation of the Security Council. Apart from concluding that troops belonging to the Islamic State used sulphur mustard gas, the report also held the Syrian government responsible for the use of chlorine gas attacks.
In 2013, after crossing US President Barack Obama’s “thin red line,” the Syrian regime yielded to the demand to destroy its chemical arsenal in accordance with a deal struck between Russia and the United States. The Security Council supported the deal with a resolution which prohibited all warring parties in Syria to use any chemical weapons. The resolution also stated that any further use of chemical weapons in Syria would result in measures under the United Nations Charter’s Chapter 7. “Measures under Chapter 7” would entail sanctions, and a Security Council mandate to use military force against the responsible actor.
However, the report by OPCW divided the Security Council’s key players; the five veto nations with France, the United Kingdom and the United States in one camp and Russia and China in the other. The latter ones have expressed their support for the Syrian regime, and the Russians have questioned the report’s accusation of the Syrian government for the use of chemical weapons, claiming the Security Council cannot use the conclusions to impose sanctions.
If Russia and China oppose a potential Security Council resolution nothing will happen. The veto right will entrench the status quo. As long as national interests govern, the situation will not change. While the Security Council tries to produce a resolution which will receive the approval of all veto nations, the Syrian conflict rages on, and people continue to die.
Reuters: Russia questions report blaming Syrian government for gas attacks
By Bashar_al-Assad.jpg: Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom / ABr derivative work: César (Bashar_al-Assad.jpg) [CC BY 3.0 br (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/br/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABashar_al-Assad_(cropped).jpg
After failing to adopt a statement condemning North Korean missile activities earlier this month due to Chinese opposition, the United Nations Security Council have now adopted a statement deploring all North Korean ballistic missile activities.
Following a series of North Korean missile launches during the year, which have continued despite repeated condemnations from the United Nations Security Council, the Security Council have adopted yet another condemnation. The condemnation concerns the latest missile launch, conducted from a submarine on the 23rd of August, but highlights the repeated violations by North Korea, and includes condemnations of previous launches during the summer.
Earlier this month, Stop Illegitimate Vetoes reported that the Security Council were in disagreement over the formulation of a draft statement condemning the North Korean missile launch that landed in Japanese-controlled waters. That statement was not passed partly due to Chinese opposition to the explicit mention of the missile’s landing place, and partly due to China’s request for the inclusion of a sentence urging parties not deploy anti-ballistic systems in the region, which the United States and Japan did not accept as they have recently launched such a system. The condemnation adopted this week did not include such language.
Once again, North Korean action has highlighted rifts between the veto-wielding states in the United Nations Security Council. This time, China blocked the path to a united condemnation of the country’s recent launch of a ballistic missile which landed in Japanese-controlled waters.
North Korea’s missile test on August 3rd stirred up more international emotions than usual. The reason was that the ballistic missile landed in Japanese territorial waters. The very same day, the United Nations Security Council met. A draft condemnation of the launch was outlined, and reportedly looked similar to previous statements issued by the Security Council following earlier missile tests by North Korea.
However, the condemnation was stopped due to Chinese objections on two fronts. Firstly, the Chinese objected to the statement’s explicit uttering of concern over the fact that the missile landed in Japanese-controlled waters. Secondly, the Chinese delegation also asked to include an additional sentence in the condemnation: “…all relevant parties shall avoid taking any actions which could provoke each other and escalate tensions, and shall not deploy any new anti-ballistic missile stronghold in Northeast Asia with an excuse of dealing with threats of the DPRK nuclear and missile programs.”
The proposed addition was a reference to the missile defence system commonly known as THAAD that was deployed in the Korean peninsula by the United States last month, a move China has previously warned would increase tensions. The United States and Japan did not accept China’s suggestions, which led to the Security Council being unable to adopt a condemnation of the ballistic missile launch.
Sometimes, a veto is not enough to get your way. When Russia vetoed a draft resolution to set up an international tribunal investigating the MH17 plane crash in Ukraine 2014, some countries joined together to set up their own international investigation. That investigation is soon ready to release its conclusions.
On the 3rd of June, prosecutors of the international investigation on the downing of the flight MH17, which took place over Eastern Ukraine in July 2014, said the investigation was at “a very advanced stage”, and estimated that the conclusions of the investigation would be presented after the summer.
The international investigation was set up by the Netherlands, Australia, Malaysia, Belgium, and Ukraine, after Russia, in July 2015, vetoed a draft resolution to set up an international tribunal to investigate the plane crash. At the time, Russia claimed the setting up of a tribunal was premature and unproductive, and that tribunals were ineffective in investigating such events.
The prosecutors of the international investigation claim to have made several requests for assistance from countries involved in the case, but have not yet received information from Russia on the Buk missile believed to have brought the plane down.
Flight MH17 crashed in Eastern Ukraine, in the middle of an ongoing conflict between Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists. Pro-Russian separatists in the area denied shooting down the aircraft, although Western nations and Ukraine have claimed there is evidence that the plane was brought down by a Russian supplied Buk anti-aircraft missile. 298 people were killed in the crash, two thirds of whom were Dutch.