As civilians continue to die in Aleppo, the Security Council has resorted to debate the fairness of reports of the humanitarian situation in the city, as the Russian veto blocks substantive actions. Meanwhile, member states are looking to the General Assembly for a possible way around the Security Council deadlock.
“Our generation’s shame” – that is how the UN humanitarian chief, Stephen O’Brien, described the Security Council’s inability to act on the humanitarian disaster in today’s Aleppo. During a meeting in New York, O’Brien criticized representative envoys from the Security Council’s member states. He stressed that Aleppo has become a “kill zone”, and the critique was indeed blistering: “If you don’t take action, there will be no Syrian peoples or Syria to save – that will be this council’s legacy, our generation’s shame”.
O’Brien’s attack on the Security Council’s inability to act, and the bombings conducted by Russia and the Syrian regime, failed to spark action, but instead led to more debate and squabbling among the council’s two main camps; Russia and China on one side, and France, the United Kingdom and the United States on the other. The Russian ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, stated that O’Brien’s report was “unfair and dishonest”, something which caused great debate between the other ambassadors. Subsequently, the debate concerned Russian-led bombings of Aleppo, and its unwillingness to submit to negotiations in the Security Council. The Russians were criticized for its “attack on the UN”, and all negotiations stalled.
Once again, the Security Council failed, despite harsh internal criticism, to act at all. Instead they plunged into squabbling over the report by O’Brien. While the Security Council remains deadlocked, many United Nations member states have called for the General Assembly to hold an emergency special session to take action. An informal meeting to discuss the Syrian situation was held on the initiative of Canada and 70 other member states on the 20th of October. Whether an emergency special session will be convened in the near future, and whether it can lead to substantive action, remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, the death tolls in Aleppo continue to increase, and civilians continue to suffer as a result of the Security Council’s veto-induced inaction.
As had been expected, a French-Spanish draft resolution addressing the situation in Syria was vetoed by Russia. The veto means civilians in Aleppo are likely to continue to suffer amidst heavy bombardment by Syrian and Russian aircraft.
On Saturday, France and Spain presented a draft resolution on the situation in Syria to the United Nations Security Council. The resolution called for a cessation of hostilities, the establishment of a military no-fly-zone over Aleppo, unhindered humanitarian access, and holding perpetrators of atrocities accountable.
However, as expected, the veto was vetoed by Russia. The Russian Foreign Ministry claimed the resolution distorted the reality of the situation in Syria, and that a ban on the aerial bombardments would provide cover to terrorists. The reality, that the resolution allegedly distorted, is that about 275 000 civilians are trapped by the siege of eastern Aleppo, suffering through daily bombings of bunker-buster bombs and incendiary weapons and starvation as aid convoys are blocked from entering the city.
“Thanks to your actions today, Syrians will continue to lose their lives in Aleppo and beyond to Russian and Syrian bombing. Please stop now”, Matthew Rycroft, the British Ambassador to the United Nations, told his Russian counterpart Vitaly Churkin.
Russia put forward a rival draft resolution, which constituted a version of the French-Spanish resolution with Russian amendments, such as leaving out the call for a military no-fly-zone. The Russian resolution only gained four votes in favor, well below the requirement of nine votes in favor.
Saturday was the fifth time Russia vetoed a resolution addressing Syria since the beginning of the conflict in 2011. The first four times, the Russian vetoes where joined by China. On Saturday, the Chinese abstained their vote on the French-Spanish resolution, while voting in favor of the Russian resolution.
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
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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.
The privilege of the veto also comes with responsibilities. A United Nations memo, questioning the United Kingdom’s “merits to hold a permanent seat at the Security Council” after its withdrawal of police officers from a peacekeeping mission in South Sudan, has made that clear.
Last week, Reuters reported the existence of an internal UN memo that appears to question the United Kingdom’s right to its veto at the Security Council. The memo comes after the UK, as well as Sweden and Germany, withdrew some of it police officers from a peacekeeping mission in South Sudan amidst heavy fighting in the capital Juba earlier this month.
“The departure of the police officers has affected the operational capability of the mission at headquarters level and has dealt a serious blow to the morale of its peacekeepers” read the memo. It continued to state that the withdrawal “can be considered a lack of respect to their engagement on peace and security” in reference the states that are also on the Security Council, which in this case means the UK with its permanent seat, and Sweden, who were recently elected to serve on the Council during 2017 and 2018.
The memo went on to question the UK’s right to a permanent seat when they themselves do not fulfill their obligations to peace and security in difficult situations: “This also raises the question of their merits to hold a permanent seat at the Security Council and mandating others on how to handle peace and security issues when they themselves are quick to abandon their post in challenging situations.”
The UK withdrew two police officers, Germany seven, and Sweden three, without consulting the United Nations. The memo also reported that the United States were planning to withdraw nine police. The countries will not be allowed to replace the police officers once the situation improves.
Reuters: U.N. memo questions Britain’s Security Council veto power
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.
On an official visit to Harare by a Russian delegation, Zimbabwean officials expressed their gratitude to Russia for vetoing a draft resolution that would have put the country under international sanctions in 2008.
Some favors are sooner forgotten than others. Last week, Zimbabwe showed that a friendly veto on the United Nations Security Council is a favor of the more lasting kind. In late April, Zimbabwean Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegvi expressed their gratitude towards Russia for its veto of a draft resolution presented in 2008, stating that Russia saved Zimbabwe from international sanctions that would be devastating for the country’s economy. The statement came during an official visit from a Russian delegation to Harare to discuss economic cooperation and joining efforts in working against the sanctions that both countries are placed under.
The 2008 draft resolution that Russia vetoed would have condemned election-related violence in Zimbabwe, and established a UN peacekeeping force under a Chapter VII mandate, in condition to imposing economic sanctions on the country. Russia justified its veto by claiming the situation did not constitute a threat to international peace, and that it would complicate diplomatic efforts to end the conflict. China also vetoed the resolution for similar reasons.
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To veto or not to veto, that is the question. As Palestinian officials have circulated an unofficial draft resolution condemning Israeli settlements, U.S. decision-makers are reluctant to say whether any such resolution would be vetoed if presented to the United Nations Security Council. U.S. lawmakers, on the other hand, are firmly in support of a veto.
The United States have a tradition to veto draft resolutions concerning the Israel-Palestine conflict, claiming that the United Nations is the wrong venue for peacebuilding, and that the parties themselves must be in control of the peace process. As Palestinian authorities are circulating a draft resolution, condemning Israeli settlements, among Arab countries, questions have arisen regarding whether the United States would veto such a resolution or not, if formally presented to the Security Council.
John Kirby, the U.S. State Department’s spokesperson, declined to comment on the draft resolution before it was presented formally, but he did say that they “are very concerned about the trends on the ground” and that they “have a sense of urgency about the two-state solution.” He also stated that the United States is considering all options for improving the prospects of lasting peace. These statements seem to confirm speculations that Obama may want to lay the basis for a new approach to the conflict before leaving office.
U.S. lawmakers, however, do not seem to be as open to all options. Last week, a letter signed by 90% of the House of Representatives was sent to the White House, urging President Obama to veto an attempt by the Security Council to impose terms of a peace deal on Israel, as such a resolution would be a danger to the resumption of direct negotiations between Israel and Palestine. The letter was this week followed by the introduction of a resolution in the House of Representatives, bearing the same message.
In December 2014, the Obama administration stated that it opposed UN-imposed peace plans on the conflict, in relation to a similar push for action from the United Nations Security Council. A similar draft resolution failed to pass in the Security Council in 2011, which was the last time the United States used its veto.
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