The celebrations of the UN day on October 24 saw a disappointing occasion in the organization’s history. Once again, a resolution on the Syrian Civil War was vetoed by the Russian Federation. For the fourth time in 2017, a veto has been cast in the UN security council.
The resolution regarded, as in all other cases this year, Syria. Following the reported use of chemical weapons in Syria in 2015, the UN security council created the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) together with the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). At that point in time, all 15 members of the security council voted for the resolution. In 2016, the investigation by JIM was prolonged for a year and continued to report to the security council about the usage of chemical weapons in Syria.
However, this week the investigation came to an end when the Russian Federation cast its veto against the resolution prolonging the investigation mandate. The United States’ ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, expressed her criticism, claiming that there were no limits for Russia’s dedication to keep its ally, Bashar al-Assad in power. The Russian ambassador Vassily Nebenzia responded to this by stating that Russia desired to see the report put forward by JIM on October 26, before prolonging the mandate.
Last time OPCW came with a report on the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons, in June this year, the United States responded with missile attacks on regime air bases.
Consequences following this week’s veto are that as of now, there is no investigation regarding usage of chemical weapons in Syria. Moreover, it has become much easier to get away with using chemical weapons since the watchdog on the ground in Syria has been removed.
“Russia vetoes UN resolution on Syria chemical attack probe” The Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/10/24/russia-vetoes-un-resolution-syria-chemical-attack-probe/
Throughout 2016 and so far during 2017, the number of North Korean missile tests has increased – and with those increasing numbers, tensions have risen as well. On the Korean peninsula, following North Korean missiles plunging into the territorial waters of Japan and South Korea, the United States and its president have responded with threatening choice of language. On August 6, the UN Security Council acted on the North Korean issue, imposing new, extensive, sanctions on the Communist dictatorship. However, these new sanctions have provoked new threats from Pyongyang.
On July 4, the North Korean leadership in Pyongyang claimed to have for the first time succeeded in testing one of their Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM), capable of reaching American territory. Following this dangerous development in the region, the UN Security Council held a meeting where it was agreed that new sanctions were to be imposed. That the People’s Republic of China complied with these new sanctions was vital, due to the country’s veto powers and since they often are considered an ally to Kim Jong-un. After the UNSC’s decision, more threats were made from North Korea, directed towards primarily the United States, and its military base on the island Guam in the Pacific Ocean. This sparked anger in Washington, and President Donald Trump threatened North Korea with ‘fire and fury’ if North Korea further provoked the US. Currently the situation is at a tense standstill.
Sanctions have been imposed earlier on North Korea, however, the issue has also been a major platform of disagreement; primarily between the United States and China. One could ask whether more decisive action earlier from the UNSC might have contributed to a less volatile and dangerous situation in North East Asia. If North Korea has acquired weapons of mass destruction, these new sanctions could continue to destabilize the situation. The Security Council must henceforth stay unified and work together to solve the situation, putting national politics aside.
Syria constituted, last week, a source of great friction in the Security Council. Russia cast its veto on a resolution regarding action against Syria’s leader al-Assad following use of chemical weapons by the regime.
Last week, the UN Security Council once again met to vote on a resolution dealing with the civil war in Syria. The situation changed last week with yet another attack with chemical weapons by the Syrian regime against its population. Even American president Trump changed his administration’s stance on Syria’s al-Assad following the attack, from being unwilling to intervene in the conflict, to launching 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at an army airfield outside Damascus.
The resolution put forward by the United States, the United Kingdom and France based on observations of OPCW (Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons), was to punish al-Assad for breaching the resolution 2118 (from 2013) where al-Assad were to destroy all his stockpiles of chemical weapons. However, the resolution did not pass this time either. The Russian envoy to the UN argued that the resolution “failed to serve any useful purpose.” This decision attracted criticism from fellow UN members such as Ukraine.
This is the eighth time Russia has cast its veto to protect Syria’s leader al-Assad from UN action. The use of the veto and Russia’s desire to keep al-Assad in his place has paralyzed the UN from acting, and constitutes a tragedy for the Syrian people.
An old, and previously discussed question becomes current again, with China and Russia using their veto to stop yet another resolution concerning al-Assad’s use of banned chemical weapons.
Several reports have been published by various agencies concerning the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons in Syria’s civil war. In September 2016, for instance, the UN’s watchdog regarding chemical weapons – the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) – reported that the Syrian regime, alongside such groups as the so-called Islamic State had been using chlorine gas, among other prohibited chemical weapons (see Report on chemical weapons causes Security Council frictions, Sept. 4th, 2016). Any action, however, from the UN against this use of chemical weapons, was blocked by Russia and China, who have ties to the regime in Damascus.
A week ago, yet another resolution in the Security Council was stopped by the use of the veto. For the seventh time since the Syrian Civil War started in 2011, Russia has used its veto right to prevent any sanctions or UN actions directed towards President al-Assad. Despite the fact that President al-Assad agreed on destroying all chemical weapons back in 2013, OPCW has found evidence on the use of chemical weapons by governmental forces three times since then. The resolution put forward on Tuesday, February 28th, would, if voted through, have banned the sale of helicopters to Syria and led to sanctions against multiple Syrian officials. According to Russia’s UN delegation, the veto was cast due to “suspicious sources” in the report about chemical weapons, and that it “undermined” the current peace attempts in Kazakhstan, orchestrated by the Russians. The Chinese delegation motivated its decision by their unwillingness to lose “momentum in the peace process.”
However, this use of the veto power from Russia and China to prevent any action against the Syrian regime, puts the international community in a paralyzed state, unable to act against human rights violations. Besides the tradegy of the suffering of the Syrian people, this behavoir further risks starting a trend where the use of chemical weapons by other states can go unpunished if they have the “right” allies within the Security Council. Such a scenario would deplete any work against such weapons, leaving them effectless.
UN Press: https://www.un.org/press/en/2017/sc12737.doc.htm
BBC News: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-39116854
Reports from Amnesty and Human Rights Watch in the last weeks tell of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by the Syrian government against oppositional rebels and civilians, but the government are unlikely to face repercussions, thanks to the protection of Russia’s veto.
On the 7th of February, Amnesty released a report detailing the extrajudicial executions by hanging carried out by the Syrian government at Saydnaya Prison. Between 2011 and 2015, groups of 50 people were hanged once or twice a week. As many as 13 000 people may have died at Saydnaya Prison in this manner, most of them civilians opposed to the government. The report also details the use of torture and systematic deprevation of food, water, medicine and medical care, creating inhuman conditions for the prisoners.
The following week, Human Rights Watch released a report showing that Syrian government forces used chemical weapons in the final weeks of the campaign to retake Aleppo from rebels. The report shows that helicopters dropped chlorine in residential areas on at least eight occasions in November and December 2016. The attacks took place in areas where government forces were planning to advance, indicated that they were part of the military strategy to retake Aleppo and not carried out by rogue elements. At least nine civilians, including four children, died from the attacks, and more than 200 were injured.
These reports clearly show that crimes against humanity and war crimes are being committed by the Syrian government. However, those responsible are unlikely to face repercussions. Syria is not a state party to the International Criminal Court. Therefore, a decision by the United Nations Security Council to refer the situation to the court is necessary for it to investigate the situation. On a number of occasions, Russia has used its veto to block such a referral, and that is likely to happen again if a draft resolution is put forward.
Before Christmas, the United Nations General Assembly established an investigative body to collect, consolidate, preserve, and analyze evidence of war crimes and human rights abuses in Syria, in preparation for future criminal proceedings. Such criminal proceedings are unlikely to be initiated in the near future, but may be possible at some time in the future. Until then, Syrian civilians continue to suffer the crimes their government is committing.
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 email@example.com.
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.
On Monday the 5th of December, a draft resolution calling for a cessation of hostilities in Aleppo was vetoed by Russia and China. This was the sixth draft resolution concerning Syria that has been vetoed since the beginning of the conflict in 2011. Meanwhile, a military victory in Aleppo for the Syrian government forces is looking imminent.
The draft resolution, introduced by Egypt, Spain and New Zealand, called for a week-long cessation of hostilities against all actors, including those designated terrorist groups, in Aleppo and demanded immediate safe access to all areas of the city for humanitarian assistance. The draft resolution also called for a ceasefire in the rest of Syria, but allowed for ongoing operations against terrorist groups.
Vitaly Churkin, representing Russia at the Security Council, claimed that the vote had been rushed, and that member states had not been given the customary 24-hour period to consider the final wording of the text. Furthermore, Churkin claimed that the resolution ignored and undermined ongoing negotiations between Russia and the United States on withdrawal of fighters from Aleppo and humanitarian relief, and that a ceasefire would only allow fighters to reinforce their positions and prolong the conflict. Liu Jieyi, the Chinese representative, stressed that council action should complement current diplomatic effort and that more intensive efforts to forge a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political process were needed, adding that efforts to reach consensus in the Security Council should have continued. Venezuela also voted against the draft resolution, with Angola abstaining.
The positions of Russia and China drew heavy criticism from other Council members, with the United Kingdom’s Matthew Rycroft dismissing Russia’s arguments as hackneyed and Michele Sisson, the United States’ deputy representative to the UN , accusing Russia of protecting its military gains. The atmosphere in the Security Council on this issue is uncooperative, to say the least.
On the ground in Aleppo, Syrian government forces are reported to have recaptured 75% of the previously rebel-controlled areas in the eastern parts of the city in the last weeks. Over 100 000 civilians are believed to still be under siege without access to food and medicine in areas still controlled by the rebels. According to Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister, Syria’s army has suspended combat operations in the area to allow evacuation of civilians, but reports from the ground indicate that the fighting is still on-going, although somewhat eased.