In a blow to international justice, Russia and China, for the fourth time, used a double veto to block the UN Security Council from taking any meaningful action to end mass atrocities in Syria. The latest proposed resolution, supported by United to End Genocide and over 100 other global NGOs, would have referred Syria to the International Criminal Court. Instead, impunity has won the day for now.
In the three plus years since atrocities in Syria began, over 160,000 people have been killed and both the Assad regime and rebels have been implicated in crimes against humanity including the use of chemical weapons and barrel bombs on civilians, rape, torture and the blocking of humanitarian aid. These crimes have been documented by numerous groups and an independent UN inquiry found that the government is committing widespread and systematic attacks on civilians and that some armed opposition groups are also committing war crimes. With the double veto by Russia and China, justice for these crimes has been denied.
As U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power stated, because of today’s veto there will be “crime and no punishment” for atrocities in Syria and because of it “the Syrian people will not see justice today.”
But one small bit of optimism coming out of the vote was the clear image of Russia and China being alone. Amid the 15 countries currently sitting on the UN Security Council, it was just the representatives for Russia and China who did nothing, while 13 representatives raised their hands high in favor of the ICC referral.
This small show of strength illustrates that despite the blow to international accountability and justice there are other ways forward. As the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect points out “the UN General Assembly should now discuss the possibility of a special tribunal to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity.” This should also lend support to the initiative for voluntary restraint on use of the UN Security Council veto in the case of mass atrocities.
In the immediate term, further efforts should be made to push for humanitarian access. The United States and other UN members appear to be shifting toward cross-border delivery of aid with or without the assent of the Assad regime. With 3.5 million people in need of immediate assitance, this should be done with haste.
Those who are committing atrocities in Syria should know that their efforts are being strongly countered on the international stage and that despite the latest shameful roadblock by Russia and China, there are many more countries willing and ready to double down on the pursuit of justice.