Russia and China on Tuesday yielded their veto power to protect the Assad regime from UN Security Council action, blocking a bid by Western powers to impose sanctions on the regime over its use of chemical weapons in attacks on civilians.
The Sino-Russian double veto has drawn widespread condemnation by UN Security Council member states and rights groups.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Russia bore a “heavy responsibility towards the Syrian people and humanity as a whole.” The resolution was “essential for peace and international security,” he added.
This was the seventh time that Russia has used its veto power to shield the Assad regime and the sixth by China.
“In Syria, the use of chemical weapons by the regime and by Daesh (the ISIS extremist group), including against civilian populations, is intolerable,” Ayrault said. “It is crucial that we do not let the crimes of those who choose to use such weapons go unpunished.”
“This is why France took the initiative, with its partners, on this resolution,” Ayrault said, expressing “deep regret” that the UN Security Council could not show unity on the issue.
France’s criticism was echoed by Britain, with Foreign Minister Boris Johnson saying the veto by Russia and China was “deeply disappointing.”
The United States strongly denounced Russia and China for vetoing the draft resolution. The US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said: “Russia and China made an outrageous and indefensible choice today.”
Speaking in the Security Council chamber after the vote, Haley said that “it is a sad day on the Security Council when members start making excuses for other member states killing their own people.”
“Shamefully, today’s resolution was not adopted. The names of people and companies involved in Assad’s use of chemical weapons are public – all listed in the annex of this draft resolution for everyone to see.”
“The United States has already designated for sanctions every person and every entity listed in the annex. We will work with our EU and other like-minded partners to push for similar sanctions as soon as possible,” Haley added.
The vetoes by Russia and China also drew sharp criticism from rights activists, with the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) calling their votes a “cynical decision.”
Louis Charbonneau, the United Nations director for HRW, said that “in the wake of Russia’s seventh veto on a Syria resolution, UN member states should explore and pursue alternate avenues for accountability for the serious crimes of the Syrian government.”
Sherine Tadros, head of Amnesty International’s UN office, said: “By vetoing this resolution Russia and China have displayed a callous disregard for the lives of millions of Syrians.”
Nine council members voted in favor, Bolivia voted against, while Egypt, Ethiopia and Kazakhstan abstained. A resolution needs nine votes in favor and no vetoes by the five permanent members; the United States, France, Russia, Britain and China to be adopted.
The draft resolution would have banned the sale or supply of helicopters to the Assad regime after the UN/OPCW inquiry found its forces had used helicopters to drop barrel bombs containing chlorine gas on rebel-held areas in 2014 and 2015.
The draft also proposed targeted sanctions – a travel ban and asset freeze – on 11 Assad regime military commanders and officials, as well as on 10 government and related entities. (Source: Syrian Coalition’s Media Department + Agencies)